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"The second American Revolution is under way and Kalte Lasn is one ol its Tom Paines." 
— Ujgki Robin, coauthor at Your Money or Your Life 

F o u n 


A S N 




Culture Jam 

Culture Jam 


Kalle Lasn 

An Imprint of HarpcrCollinsiWu/ben 

A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1999 by Eagle Brook, an imprint of 
William Morrow and Company, Inc. 

culture jam. Copyright © 1999 by Kalle Lasn. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States 
of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever 
without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical arti- 
cles and reviews. For information address HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, 
New York, NY 10022. 

HarperCollins books may be purchased for educational, business, or sales promotional use. 
For information please write: Special Markets Department, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. 

First Quill edition published 2000. 

Designed by Chris Dixon at Adbusters Media Foundation and Michael Mendelsohn at MM 
Design 2000, Inc. 

The Library of Congress has catalogued the hardcover edition as follows: 

Culture jam : the uncooling of America / Kalle Lasn. — 1st ed. 

p. cm. 
Includes bibliographical references. 
ISBN 0-688-15656-8 

1. Mass media and culture. 2. Mass media — Influence. 3. Mass media and the 
environment. 4. Mass media criticism. 5. Popular culture. 6. Social movements. 

Lasn, Kalle. 

7. Intercultural communication. 
I. Title. 

P94.6.L37 1999 
302.23— dc21 


ISBN 0-688-17805-7 (pbk.) 

01 02 03 04 ❖ / RRD 10 9 8 7 6 

For my beloved mother. Leida Lasn. 
and for Masako Lasn. my partner in life 

my teachers Kristjan Lasn. 

Fritz Schumacher. Marshall McLuhan. 

Guy Debord 

my friends Ron Coxhead, Bill Schmalz. 
Geoff Rogers. Hideo Iso. Doug Tompkins. 
Tadao and Hanae Tominaga 

and for my mortal enemy. Philip Morris Inc.. 
which I vow to take down 

This book was written in a close, intense, 
two-year collaboration with my friend 
Bruce Grierson. Without his perseverance 
and magic way with words, it would never 
have seen the light of day. 

James MacKinnon weighed in near the 
end with a flurry of brilliant ideas. 

Ingrid Richardson and Katherine Dodds 
were my philosophical gurus. Ryan Bigge 
and Paul Shoebridge kept it on the tracks. 

Allan Casey. Cat Simril, Charles Dobson, 
Sid Tafler. Jurgen Hesse. Jonathon Priddle. 
John Mraz. Kyle Frederiksen. Hilary Keever and 
Jordan Reeves critiqued the various drafts. 

Joann Davis took out all the swear words. 


Introduction: Culture Jamming xi 


Mood Disorders 3 

The Ecology of Mind 9 

Media Virus 29 

The Manchurian Consumer 37 

Posthuman 43 


The Cult You're In 51 

The End of the American Dream 59 

The Unofficial History of America™ 65 

Your Corporate Connection 73 

The Global Economic Pyramid Scheme 85 


The Revolutionary Impulse 99 

The New Activism (Fire in the Belly) 1 1 1 

The Meme Wars 1 23 

The Meme Warrior 129 


Rage 139 
The Second American Revolution 

(An Assertiveness Training Workshop for Culture Jammers) 145 

Grounding the Corporation 157 

Demarketing Loops 165 

Media Carta 185 

Redefining Progress 201 

Epilogue: The Millennial Moment of Truth 2 1 1 

Notes 217 

Index 237 


The book you're holding carries a message that your first instinct will be 
to distrust. That message is, We can change the world. It's risky these days 
to make such a promise because it sounds like one of those meaningless 
"awaken the inner giant"-type bromides: "If you can dream it, you can do 
it," "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," and so on. 

But it's true. We're serious. We call ourselves culture jammers. 
We're a loose global network of media activists who see ourselves as the 
advance shock troops of the most significant social movement of the 
next twenty years. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and 
forge major adjustments to the way we will live in the twenty-first cen- 
tury. We believe culture jamming will become to our era what civil 
rights was to the '60s, what feminism was to the '70s, what environmen- 
tal activism was to the '80s. It will alter the way we live and think. It will 
change the way information flows, the way institutions wield power, the 
way TV stations are run, the way the food, fashion, automobile, sports, 
music and culture industries set their agendas. Above all, it will change 
the way we interact with the mass media and the way in which meaning 
is produced in our society. 

xii Introduction 

We are a very diverse tribe. Our people range from born-again 
Lefties to Green entrepreneurs to fundamentalist Christians who 
don't like what television is doing to their kids; from punk anarchists 
to communications professors to advertising executives searching for 
a new role in life. Many of us are longtime activists who in the midst 
of our best efforts suddenly felt spiritually winded. For us feminism 
had run out of steam, the environmental movement no longer excited, 
the fire no longer burned in the belly of the Left, and youth rebellion 
was looking more and more like an empty gesture inspired by Nike. 
We were losing. 

Then we had an idea. Maybe if we banged together the heads of 
all these activists and reconfigured the fragmented forces of identity 
politics into a new, empowered movement, we could start winning 

We weren't looking for it necessarily, but each one of us in our 
own way has had a political awakening; a series of very personal 
"moments of truth" about ourselves and how the world works. For 
some, these insights have come on like powerful, secular epiphanies. 
Sometimes they have been triggered by things we overheard or read or 
stumbled upon. Sometimes they have involved things we thought we 
knew but now, suddenly, felt. These truths have left us shaken; it's no 
exaggeration to say they have changed our lives. I'd like to share with 
you some of the insights that have occurred to me over the last decade 
or so. 

America is no longer a country. It's a multitrillion-dollar brand. Amer- 
ica™ is essentially no different from McDonald's, Marlboro or General 
Motors. It's an image "sold" not only to the citizens of the U.S.A., but to 
consumers worldwide. The American brand is associated with catch- 
words such as "democracy," "opportunity" and "freedom." But like ciga- 
rettes that are sold as symbols of vitality and youthful rebellion, the 
American reality is very different from its brand image. America™ has 
been subverted by corporate agendas. Its elected officials bow before 
corporate power as a condition of their survival in office. A collective 

Introduction xiii 
sense of powerlessness and disillusionment has set in. A deeply felt 
sense of betrayal is brewing. 

American culture is no longer created by the people. Our stories, once 
passed from one generation to the next by parents, neighbors and 
teachers, are now told by distant corporations with "something to sell as 
well as to tell." Brands, products, fashions, celebrities, entertainments — 
the spectacles that surround the production of culture — are our culture 
now. Our role is mostly to listen and watch — and then, based on what 
we have heard and seen, to buy. 

A free, authentic life is no longer possible in America™ today. We are 
being manipulated in the most insidious way. Our emotions, personali- 
ties and core values are under siege from media and cultural forces too 
complex to decode. A continuous product message has woven itself into 
the very fabric of our existence. Most North Americans now live 
designer lives — sleep, eat, sit in car, work, shop, watch TV, sleep again. I 
doubt there's more than a handful of free, spontaneous minutes any- 
where in that cycle. We ourselves have been branded. The human spirit of 
prideful contrariness and fierce independence has been oddly tamed. 
We have evolved into a smile-button culture. We wear the trendiest 
fashions, drive the best cars industry can produce and project an image 
of incredible affluence — cool people living life to the hilt. But behind 
that happy mask is a face so ugly it invariably shocks the hell out of my 
friends from developing countries who come to visit, expecting the 
giddy Americana depicted on TV and finding instead a horror show of 
disconnection and anomie. 

Our mass media dispense a kind of Huxleyan "soma." The most 
powerful narcotic in the world is the promise of belonging. And belong- 
ing is best achieved by conforming to the prescriptions of America™. In 
this way a perverted sense of cool takes hold of the imaginations of our 
children. And thus a heavily manipulative corporate ethos drives our 
culture. Cool is indispensable — and readily, endlessly dispensed. You 
can get it on every corner (for the right price), though it's highly addic- 
tive and its effects are short-lived. If you're here for cool today, you'll 
almost certainly be back for more tomorrow. 

xiv Introduction 

American cool is a global pandemic. Communities, traditions, cul- 
tural heritages, sovereignties, whole histories are being replaced by a 
barren American monoculture. 

Living in Japan during its period of sharpest transition to a western 
way of life, I was astonished by the speed and force with which the 
American brand took hold. I saw a culture with thousands of years of 
tradition behind it vanquished in two generations. Suddenly, high 
school girls were selling themselves after class for $150 a trick so they'd 
have cash to buy American jeans and handbags. 

The Earth can no longer support the lifestyle of the coolhunting 
American-style consumer. We have sought, bought, spewed and 
devoured too much, too fast, too brazenly, and now we're about to pay. 
Economic "progress" is killing the planet. 

This did not fully hit home for me until 1989, when a spate of 
nightmarish environmental stories suddenly appeared on the news: 
acid rain, dying seals in the North Sea, medical waste washing up on 
New York beaches, garbage barges turned away from port after port, a 
growing hole in the ozone layer, and the discovery that the milk in 
American mothers' breasts had four times the amount of DDT permit- 
ted in cow's milk. In that year a critical mass of people saw the light and 
became "environmentalists." We were witnessing the specter of a whole 
planet heading for ruin. To people like me for whom time had always 
seemed like a constant, eternally moving train which people got on and, 
seventy years later, got off, it was the end of innocence. The premoni- 
tion of ecocide — planetary death — became real for the first time, and it 
terrified me. It still does. 

Once you experience even a few of these "moments of truth," things can 
never be the same again. Your life veers off in strange new directions. It's 
very exciting and a little scary. Ideas blossom into obsessions. The 
imperative to live life differently keeps building until the day it breaks 
through the surface. 

When it happened to me I was in my neighborhood supermarket 
parking lot. I was plugging a coin into a shopping cart when it suddenly 

Introduction xv 

occurred to me just what a dope I was. Here I was putting in my quarter 
for the privilege of spending money in a store I come to every week but 
hate, a sterile chain store that rarely carries any locally grown produce 
and always makes me stand in line to pay. And when I was finished 
shopping I'd have to take this cart back to the exact place their efficiency 
experts have decreed, and slide it back in with all the other carts, 
rehook it and push the red button to get my damn quarter back. 

A little internal fuse blew. I stopped moving. I glanced around to 
make sure no one was watching. Then I reached for that big bent coin 
I'd been carrying in my pocket and I rammed it as hard as I could 
into the coin slot. And then with the lucky Buddha charm on my 
keyring I banged that coin in tight until it jammed. I didn't stop to 
analyze whether this was ethical or not — I just let my anger flow. And 
then I walked away from that supermarket and headed for the little 
fruit and vegetable store down the road. I felt more alive than I had in 

Much later I realized I had stumbled on one of the great secrets of 
modern urban existence: Honor your instincts. Let your anger out. 
When it wells up suddenly from deep in your gut, don't suppress it- — 
channel it, trust it, use it. Don't be so unthinkingly civil all the time. 
When the system is grinding you down, unplug the grinding wheel. 

Once you start thinking and acting this way, once you realize that 
consumer capitalism is by its very nature unethical, and therefore it's 
not unethical to jam it; once you understand that civil disobedience has 
a long and honorable history that goes back to Gandhi, Martin Luther 
King, Jr., and Henry David Thoreau; once you start trusting yourself 
and relating to the world as an empowered human being instead of a 
hapless consumer drone, something remarkable happens. Your cyni- 
cism dissolves. 

If cool is the Huxleyan "soma" of our time, then cynicism is its poi- 
sonous, paralytic side effect. It is the dark side of cool. It's part of the 
reason we watch too much TV and don't bother to vote. It's why we get 
stuck year after year in tedious, meaningless jobs. It's why we're bored so 
much of the time and become compulsive shoppers. 

xvi Introduction 

To find a way out of cynicism is to find a way out of the postmod- 
ern malaise. On the far side of cynicism lies freedom. And the pursuit of 
freedom is what revolutions — and this book — are all about. 

The Situationists saw this revolution coming long ago. The French 
philosophical movement that inspired the 1968 Paris riots predicted 
what might happen to a society driven by consumer capitalism. The Sit- 
uationists intuited how hard it would be to hang on to one's core self in 
a "society of spectacle," a world of manufactured desires and manipu- 
lated emotions. Guy Debord, the leader of the Situationist movement, 
said: "Revolution is not showing life to people, but making them live." This 
instinct to be free and unfettered is hard-wired into each one of us. It's 
a drive as strong as sex or hunger, an irresistible force that, once har- 
nessed, is almost impossible to stop. 

With that irresistible force on our side, we will strike. 

We will strike by smashing the postmodern hall of mirrors and 
redefining what it means to be alive. We will reframe the battle in the 
grandest terms. The old political battles that have consumed 
humankind during most of the twentieth century — black versus white, 
Left versus Right, male versus female — will fade into the background. 
The only battle still worth fighting and winning, the only one that can 
set us free, is The People versus The Corporate Cool Machine. 

We will strike by unswooshing America™, by organizing resistance 
against the power trust that owns and manages that brand. Like Marl- 
boro and Nike, America™ has splashed its logo everywhere. And now 
resistance to that brand is about to begin on an unprecedented scale. We 
will uncool its fashions and celebrities, its icons, signs and spectacles. 
We will jam its image factory until the day it comes to a sudden, shud- 
dering halt. And then on the ruins of the old consumer culture, we will 
build a new one with a noncommercial heart and soul. 

It will be an enormous culture jam, a protracted war of ideas, ide- 
ologies and visions of the future. It may take a generation or even more. 
But it will be done. This book is dedicated to explaining how. 

Think of Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America™ as a rebranding 
strategy — a social demarketing campaign unfolding over four seasons. 

Introduction xvii 

In Part One, Autumn, we assess the current damages. We begin 
with a journey through the mental environment, which is sending out 
the same kind of early warning signals that the physical environment 
did thirty-five years ago. What does it mean when our lives and culture 
are no longer shaped by nature, but by an electronic mass media envi- 
ronment of our own creation? 

In Part Two, Winter, we rough out the problem. America, and 
much of the rest of the world now, is caught in a media-consumer 
trance. A numbing sense of commercial artificiality pervades our post- 
modern era. Can spontaneity and authenticity be restored? 

In Part Three, Spring, we explore possibilities for renewal. Has the 
wild American spirit been tamed? Is an oppositional culture still possi- 
ble? Can we launch another revolution? 

In Part Four, Summer, we catch a glimpse of what could happen if 
the American revolutionary impulse reignites. 

If it does nothing else, I hope this book gives you pause. Wherever 
you are, whatever you're doing, I hope it serves as what the Situationists 
called a detournement — a perspective-jarring turnabout in your every- 
day life. 

World War III will be a guerrilla 
information war. with no division between 
military and civilian participation. 

— Marshall McLuhan 



Imagine that you are a member of a typical postmodern family, living in 
a typical house, in a typical neighborhood, in a typical North American 
city. You're overleveraged and overworked. You eat a lot of takeout, your 
kids holler for Nikes and the TV is on five hours a day. One day it dawns 
on you that, as a family, you're failing. You aren't so much a family as 
five strangers sharing power and water. 

You decide, as a tonic, to go on a camping trip — a pit-latrine-and- 
flame-cooked-wieners experience uncorrupted by phones, faxes or Bay- 
watch. In the absence of electronic distractions, you will get to know 
each other again. 

After only a few hours in the wilderness, though, it becomes clear 
that you don't know how to do this. You might as well have been shot 
into deep space, so psychologically ill-equipped are you for the enforced 
camaraderie of the outside world. 

Your kids experience actual physical withdrawal from television. 
Your seven-year-old can't finish a whole sentence or stay focused on 
more than three bites of her Van Camp's beans. She wears a Village of the 
Damned expression and asks you to repeat almost everything you say. 

4 Culture Jam 

Your fourteen-year-old finishes his meal in silence and excuses himself 
to the tent, where he scavenges for magazines and, finding none, just 
konks out. There are no signs of life. The kids' senses have become so 
deadened from disuse they can't touch, taste, smell or see that they are 
in a marvelous place. To them it doesn't feel marvelous. It doesn't feel 
like anything at all. 

If you have read Elisabeth Kiibler-Ross, you will recognize that the 
stages your kids are going through — denial, anger, depression, bargain- 
ing — closely mimic the stages of grief, as if they are adjusting to a loss. 
Which in a real way they are: the loss of their selves. Or rather, the loss 
of the selves that feel most authentic to them. Their mediated selves. 
Those selves that, when disconnected from the urban data stream, cease 
to function. 

Your family, like most postmodern clans, finds itself adrift at a his- 
torically significant time. The last couple of centuries have marked a 
radical transition in human lifestyle. We've gone from living in a natural 
world to living in a manufactured one. For two million years our per- 
sonalities and cultures were shaped by nature. The generations alive 
today — who cannot recognize an edible mushroom in the forest or 
build a fire without matches— are the first to have had their lives shaped 
almost entirely by the electronic mass media environment. 

Most of us are now fully detached from the natural world. We can 
barely remember the last time we drank from a stream, smelled wild 
skunk cabbage or saw the stars from a dark remove, well away from the 
city. We can't remember when we last spent an evening telling stories, 
instead of having Jerry or Oprah or Rosie tell stories to us. We can't 
identify three kinds of tree, but we know how much Mike Tyson 
received for his last fight. We can't explain why the sky is blue, but we 
know how many times Susan Lucci has been passed over for a Daytime 
Emmy Award. 

This detachment from nature may not seem like much of a prob- 
lem, but it is. In fact, it's a disaster. In her 1994 book Bird by Bird, writer 
Anne Lamott reflects on a California vineyard in early fall. It is "about as 
voluptuous a place as you can find on earth: the sense of lushness and 

b Culture Jam 

abundance; the fullness of the clumps of grapes that hang, mammarian, 
and give off an ancient autumnal smell, semiprotected from the sun by 
their leaves. The grapes are so incredibly beautiful that you can't help 
but be thrilled. If you aren't — if you only see someone's profit or that in 
another month there will be rotten fruit all over the ground — someone 
has gotten inside your brain and really fucked you up." I think she has it 
right. Someone has gotten into our brains. Now the most important 
task on the agenda is to evict them and recover our sanity. 

Rediscovering the natural world ought not to be difficult. It ought 
to be an instinctive act. Not just in random bursts of virtuousness 
should we be moved to replace our divots. If the Earth felt less like 
something out there and more like an extension of our bodies, we'd care 
for it like kin. We'd engage in what German philosopher Immanuel 
Kant called "beautiful acts" rather than "moral acts." We'd pull in the 
direction of global survival not because we felt duty-bound to do so, 
but because it felt right and good. At a 1990 conference titled "Psychol- 
ogy As If the Whole Earth Mattered" at Harvard University's Center for 
Psychology and Social Change, panelists concluded, "If the self is 
expanded to include the natural world, behavior leading to destruction 
of this world will be experienced as self-destruction." 

Sounds promising. But don't hold your breath. 

To "ecopsychologist" Theodore Roszak, our rampant, oblivious 
consumption at the expense of the planet is, simply, a sickness — one no 
less harmful than the disorders catalogued in the Diagnostic and Statis- 
tical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), the encyclopedia of mod- 
ern psychiatric complaint. It's too new a phenomenon for psychologists 
to have given much consideration to it. 

Roszak views the current widespread sense of malaise as a kind of 
"separation anxiety" from nature. It should be an easy metaphor to con- 
nect with. We're bombarded these days with analyses of failed relation- 
ships, of the psychological havoc that breakups wreak. The psychological 
fallout from our breakup with nature is like that. When you cut off arte- 
rial blood to an organ, the organ dies. When you cut the flow of nature 
into people's lives, their spirit dies. It's as simple as that. 

Mood Disorders 7 

Yet, most of us remain strangers to "beautiful acts." 

The postmodern family, out there in the woods trying to bond, 
can't adapt to real time, real trees and real conversation, because real life 
has become an alien landscape. Mom and Dad can't navigate in it. No 
one really feels they belong. No one feels any sense of purpose. The 
spaced-out daughter is alive when she's in front of the TV, and the 
mopey son is alive when he's surfing the Net, and Mom and Dad are 
alive when they're at work. Meanwhile, in real, hairy-ass nature, con- 
crete things keep intruding on their consciousness, breaking their 
media trance: the rumble of the nearby creek, the prick of mosquitoes 
on their ankles, the subsequent sight of their own blood. 

Living inside the postmodern spectacle has changed people. Figu- 
ratively, most of us spend the majority of our time in some ethereal 
place created from fantasy and want. After a while, the hyperreality of 
this place comes to seem normal. Garishness, volume, glitz, sleazy 
excess — the American esthetic H. L. Mencken called "the libido of the 
u gly" — becomes second nature. "The environment" consists of what 
you see around you — the ambient spectacle. Occasionally, you'll bump 
into an outsider bearing tales of that other environment, the one you 
may have known. When an Inuit elder is asked to draw a picture of the 
local coastline, he will close his eyes and listen to the sound of the waves 
on the shore. Such stories seem vaguely ludicrous. Who could be that 
attuned to the land? More to the point, who'd want to be? Where's the 
purpose in denying yourself civilized amenities when you don't have to? 

Once you start asking questions like this, you are, of course, in real 
trouble. The moment you fail to understand why the natural world 
might have any relevance in the day-to-day lives of human beings, you 
become, to quote my old physics teacher, "a lost ball in the high weeds." 
Abandon nature and you abandon your sense of the divine. More than 
that, you lose track of who you are. 


"Is everybody crazy?" Writer Jim Windolf posed the question in an 
October 1997 issue of The New York Observer, and then answered it 

If you add up all the psychological ailments Americans complain 
of, the portrait that emerges is of a nation of basket-cases. Ten million 
suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Fourteen million are alcoholics. 
Fifteen million are pathologically socially anxious. Fifteen million are 
depressed. Three million suffer panic attacks. Ten million have Border- 
line Personality Disorder. Twelve million have "restless legs." Five mil- 
lion are obsessive/compulsive. Two million are manic-depressive. Ten 
million are addicted to sex. Factoring in wild-card afflictions like 
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity, and 
allowing for overlap (folks suffering from more than one problem), 
Windolf concluded that "77 percent of the adult population is a mess." 
With a couple of new quantifiable disorders, "everybody in the country 
will be officially nuts." 

His cheeky point is that Americans are turning into annoyingly 
self-absorbed hypochondriacs. Why? Because they can. Go ahead and 

10 Culture Jam 

cry, says the prevailing psychological wisdom. Any trifling discomfort 
you might feel has been legitimized. Your pain is valid. If you think 
you're sick, you are. 

There may be a grain of truth to this. People who live in a time rel- 
atively free of crises, amidst widespread peace and a galloping economy, 
will sometimes manufacture crises, inflating minor irritants into major 
traumas. But surely there's more to the story than that. I think what we 
have here is a labeling problem. An awful lot of people are feeling down 
and they don't know why. Something is draining their energy, addling 
their brains — but they don't know what. 

Fact: Worldwide rates of major depression in every age group 
have risen steadily since the 1940s. Rates of suicide, unipolar disorder, 
bipolar disorder and alcoholism have all climbed significantly. The 
U.S. has a higher rate of depression than almost every other country, 
and cross-cultural data show that as Asian countries Americanize, 
their rates of depression increase accordingly. Moreover, recent 
research by the American National Institute of Mental Health con- 
firms that "mood disorders" have increased in each successive genera- 
tion throughout the twentieth century. I don't usually trust such 
statistics, but casual observation seems to bear the trend out. Is it just 
me or is every parent now weighing the merits of Ritalin? Their kids 
are hyper, unfocused, inattentive. They cannot stay "on task." Mom 
and Dad aren't faring much better. Tempers are short, attentions wan- 
der. Many people — and I include myself in this group — seem to be 
experiencing higher highs and lower lows these days. We soar the skies 
one moment, then feel slack and depressed the next. 

Why might this be happening? Some researchers blame environ- 
mental pollutants: chemical agents in the air, water or food. Others 
point to cultural and economic factors that are increasing the stress in 
our everyday lives. No one knows for sure. 

But it's tantalizing to guess. In Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift, 
the narrator wonders how it is that Americans can unashamedly claim 
to be "suffering," when compared to the rest of the world they are 
immensely blessed. His answer is that while most people tend to associ- 

The Ecology of Mind 11 

ate suffering with scarcity and deprivation, there's a very different kind 
of suffering that's caused by plenitude. 

Plenitude is American culture's perverse burden. Most Americans 
have everything they could possibly want, and they still don't think 
it's nearly enough. When everything is at hand, nothing is ever hard- 
won, and when nothing is hard-won, nothing really satisfies. Without 
satisfaction, our lives become shallow and meaningless. In this era of 
gigantism — corporate megamergers, billion-dollar-grossing films and 
grande lattes — we embrace the value of More to compensate for lives 
that seem, somehow, Less. Eat the instant you're hungry and, as the 
Buddhist master put it, "You will never find out what your hunger is 
for." Plenitude feeds the malaise as it fills the stomach. 

In the last quarter century the insatiable craving for the con- 
sumer culture's big, big show has only grown stronger. To meet the 
demand, media spectacles have colonized our mental environment, 
crowding out history and context. In their place there is now only a 
flood of disconnected information: The market is soaring, the planet 
is warming, this fall's hemlines are knee-high, there's a famine in East 

Could it be that all of these things together — the curse of pleni- 
tude, the image explosion, the data overload, the hum of the media that, 
like Denny's, are always awake and bustling — are driving us crazy? I lay 
my money here. More than anything else, it is our mediated, consumption- 
driven culture that's making us sick. 

Look at the way most of us relax. We come home after work, 
exhausted. We turn on the TV— a reflex. (If we live alone, we may sim- 
ply be craving the simulacrum of another human presence.) We sit 
there passively hour after hour, barely moving except to eat. We 
receive but we do not transmit. Identical images flow into our brains, 
homogenizing our perspectives, knowledge, tastes and desires. We 
watch nature shows instead of venturing out into nature. We laugh at 
sitcom jokes but not at our spouse's. We spend more evenings enjoy- 
ing video sex than making love ourselves. And this media-fed fantasy 
changes us. (Remember the hoodlum Alex in A Clockwork Orange, 

12 Culture Jam 

undergoing behavior-modifying aversion therapy via hours and hours 
of graphic sex and violence on TV? For him the boundaries blurred. 
"The colors of the real world only become real," he noticed, "when you 
viddy them in a film.") Layer upon layer of mediated artifice come 
between us and the world until we are mummified. The commercial 
mass media are rearranging our neurons, manipulating our emotions, 
making powerful new connections between deep immaterial needs 
and material products. So virtual is the hypodermic needle that we 
don't feel it. So gradually is the dosage increased that we're not aware 
of the toxicity. 

Relatively speaking, this is all very new — too new for its effect on 
the species to be fully known. We're still adjusting to the all-pervasive 
media. We are the first two or three generations in history to grow up 
in a predominantly electronic environment. It took humans thousands 
of generations to adapt to living on the land (our "natural environ- 
ment") so it's reasonable to assume it will take dozens of generations to 
adapt to the new electronic mass media environment that's rapidly 
replacing the "natural" one. The wild mood swings and the barely 
repressed anger may simply be symptoms of a shock our systems are 
experiencing. We are new evolutionary beings, panting for breath on 
an electronic beach. 

We still haven't answered the most basic questions — such as how 
media violence affects children — let alone the big-picture issues, such as 
what happens to a whole culture when its citizens start spending half 
their waking lives in virtual environments. We know there's a correla- 
tion between TV viewing and voter apathy (the more TV you watch, the 
less likely you are to participate in the direct democratic process). We 
know that TV viewing is linked to childhood obesity (and to the extent 
that body image erodes self-esteem, we can get an idea of the degree to 
which TV addiction is harmful to the average child). Beyond that, we're 
largely guessing. We don't really know what psychological or physiolog- 
ical mechanisms are at work. And because we don't know, to a great 
extent — and this is the truly odd and scary part — we don't worry much 
about it. 

The Ecology of Mind 13 

Ten years ago we didn't think twice about the chemicals in our 
food or the toxins generated by industry; we thought they were "well 
within acceptable limits." We were dead wrong about that and today 
we may be repeating the same mistake with "mental pollution" — non- 
chalantly absorbing massive daily doses of it without a second 
thought. Our mental environment is a common-property resource 
like the air or the water. We need to protect ourselves from unwanted 
incursions into it, much the same way we lobbied for nonsmoking 
areas ten years ago. 

The antismoking lobby succeeded because people knew without 
being told that cigarettes were killing their friends and families. They 
demanded hard data about the risks of breathing in secondhand smoke. 
They disbelieved glib assurances that cigarettes were safe and that the 
right to smoke superseded the right to breathe clean air. They trusted 
their passion and their rage. 

More important, antismoking activists changed our idea of what 
smoking is all about. They uncooled the cigarette companies and their 
brands, forever connecting smoking and death in all of our minds. It 
was, perhaps, the first victory in the fight for our mental environ- 
ment — an ecology as rife with pollutants as any befouled river or cloud 
of smog. We long ago learned to watch what we dump into nature or 
absorb into our bodies; now we need to be equally careful about what 
we take into our minds. 

What follows is just a beginning, an introduction to some of the 
mental pollutants and information viruses we deal with daily — a survey 
of the threats to our "ecology of mind." 


In 1996, the World Health Organization declared noise to be a signifi- 
cant health problem, one that causes physiological changes in sleep, 
blood pressure and digestion. It's now understood that noise doesn't 
have to be loud to do damage. 

For thousands of generations, the ambient noise was rain and 

14 Culture Jam 

wind and people talking. Now the sound track of the world is vastly 
different. Today's noise is all-spectrum, undecodable. More and more 
people suffer the perpetual buzz of tinnitus — a ringing in the ears 
caused by exposure to a loud noise (or in some cases, just by aging). 
One of the treatments for tinnitus is to fit sufferers with a hearing aid 
that broadcasts white noise. The brain learns to interpret white noise 
as a background distraction, like traffic sounds, and filters it out along 
with the tinnitus. The brain works that way for the rest of us as well. 
The "whiter" the sound in our environment gets, the more we dismiss 
it as background and stop hearing it. Ultimately, everything becomes 
background noise and we hear almost nothing. 

Noise is probably the best understood of the mental pollutants. 
It's really the only one to which the term "mental pollution" has 
already been applied. From the dull roar of rush-hour traffic to the 
drone of your fridge to the buzz coming out of your computer, vari- 
ous kinds of noise (blue, white, pink, black) are perpetually seeping 
into our mental environment. To make matters worse, the volume is 
constantly being cranked up. Two, perhaps three generations have 
already become stimulation addicted. Can't work without back- 
ground music. Can't jog without a Discman. Can't study without the 
TV on. Our neurons are continuously massaged by Muzak and the 
hum of monitors. The essence of our postmodern age may be found 
in that kind of urban score. Trying to make sense of the world above 
the din of our wired world is like living next to a freeway — you get 
used to it, but at a much diminished level of mindfulness and well- 

Quiet feels foreign now, but quiet may be just what we need. 
Quiet may be to a healthy mind what clean air and water and a 
chemical-free diet are to a healthy body. In a clean mental environ- 
ment, we may find our mood disorders subsiding. It's no longer easy 
to manufacture quietude, nor is it always practical to do so. But there 
are ways to pick up the trash in your mindscape: Switch off the TV set 
in your dentist's waiting room. Lose that noisy fridge. Turn off the 
stereo. Put your computer under the table. Poet Marianne Moore 

The Ecology of Mind 15 

contends that the deepest feeling always shows itself in silence. I think 
she's got it right. 


A noise is a jolt, but a jolt isn't necessarily a noise. In broadcasting 
terms, a jolt is any "technical event" that interrupts the flow of sound or 
thought or imagery — a shift in camera angle, a gunshot, a cut to a com- 
mercial. A jolt forces your mind to pump for meaning. 

In 1978, when Jerry Mander first defined "technical events" in his 
classic book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, regular 
TV programming averaged ten technical events per minute and com- 
mercials twenty (public television averaged three to four). Twenty 
years later these figures have doubled. MTV delivers sixty events per 
minute, and some viewers, still insufficiently jolted, seek more action 
by roaming the channels. (Channel-surfers, ironically, are both the 
cause and the effect of jolt hyperinflation. The more frequently view- 
ers surf, the more broadcasters are inclined to fill their programming 
with jolts to hold the attention of surfers. And surfers, conditioned to 
expect ever-quicker jolts, become more inclined to surf.) 

Why are jolts so inherently interesting? The behavioral psycholo- 
gist Ivan Pavlov was among the first to try to explain this. Any stimulus 
change — any jolt — releases hormones that trigger the biologically 
encoded fight-or-flight response, vestigial from a time when survival 
depended on being alert to anything in the environment that happened 
at faster than normal or "natural" speed. The response was designed to 
keep us from being eaten by cave bears. It was not designed to keep us 
glued to our TV sets. 

However, most TV programs do just that. They are scripted to 
deliver the maximum number of jolts per minute (and keep viewers 
suspended through the breaks). When you watch MTV, you are in fight- 
or-flight mode practically the whole time. Random violence and mean- 
ingless sex drop in out of the blue and without context. "Unlike news 
reports or thematic TV programs, which usually prepare the viewer for 

16 Culture Jam 

violent scenes," concluded a 1995 study on the psychological aspects of 
MTV viewing, "the abruptness of music-video cuts tends to have 
greater shock effect . . . and may have more detrimental influence on the 
viewer." Much has been made of the way toddlers will sit mesmerized 
before shows like Teletubbies, but put a baby in front of MTV and you'll 
see the same level of rapture. It's an innate response, one that the indus- 
try has been quick to exploit. 

In the early 1980s, technological advances changed the way films 
were made. Up to that point, filmmaking was a painstaking process of 
finding the organic shape of the story, then developing the narrative by 
weaving together the components, literally splicing strips of 16mm or 
35mm film together by hand. National Film Board of Canada founder 
John Grierson's adage "Everything is beautiful if you get it in the right 
order" was understood to be a kind of occupational law. Today, new 
video-editing techniques allow filmmakers to take shortcuts. If there is a 
structural problem in your story, well, you can just mask it with a jolt. 
You can solve a continuity problem by simply bamboozling the audi- 
ence, briefly scrambling their brains. Story editing has become more 
and more a process of "jolt management." If you can create enough 
jolts, you have an engaging film. 

That's the premise the commercial media operate on today. Keep 
the jolts coming. Keep audiences on the edge and sell their attention 
spans to the advertiser before they regain their bearings. What's a 
postmodern spectacle after all, if not an array of carefully orchestrated 

Is it possible to have too many jolts? Yes. When the levels rise above 
a certain threshold, the viewer/listener stops pumping for meaning and 
just surrenders to the flow, to being both entertained and paralyzed. 
The narrative of actual life is suspended for the duration of the show. 

Perhaps the time has come to quantify the consequences of such 
mental pollution. If psychologists studied the impact of noise and jolt 
levels in our mental environment the way biologists research the effects 
of chemicals in our air, water and food, perhaps we could determine 
how much our brains can safely absorb. We could then compare the 

The Ecology of Mind 17 

risks posed by different mental environments. We could compare living 
in Los Angeles with living in Portland, or growing up in North America 
with growing up in Australia. We could create a "livability" index more 
accurate than the ones that simply measure greenspace, minimum wage 
and the number of schools. 

With reliable mental-environment indexes, we could rate TV pro- 
grams and stations by how many jolts per hour they manufacture, how 
much clutter they dump into the public mind and how this may be 
affecting our mental health. We could then set new agendas: to reduce, 
not increase, the number of jolts our brains absorb. 


The average North American witnesses five acts of violence (killings, 
gunshots, assaults, car chases, rapes) per hour of prime time network 
TV watched. Such statistics are now more likely to prompt yawns than 
gasps. They don't mean much if we don't distinguish between types of 
violence — pro wrestling versus Goodfellas versus Indonesian cops club- 
bing student demonstrators on the evening news. Experts can't even 
seem to agree on whether violence on TV is increasing. Two recent 
studies turned up conflicting results, and the head of one research 
team, by way of explanation, mumbled something about flawed 

So the stats are confusing. That hardly means harm is not being 

The first agenda of the commercial media is, I believe, to sell fear. 
What the "news" story of a busload of tourists gunned down in Egypt 
and the cop show about widespread corruption on the force have in 
common is that they contribute to the sense that the world is a menac- 
ing, inhospitable, untrustworthy place. Fear breeds insecurity — and 
then consumer culture offers us a variety of ways to buy our way back to 

As for sex in the media, there seems — surprise — to be as big a 
bull market as ever. TV programmers know what stops us from zap- 

18 Culture Jam 

ping the channels: pouting lips, pert breasts, buns of steel, pneumatic 

TV sexuality is a campaign of disinformation, much like TV news. 
The truth is stretched, the story is hyped. If you look like a TV star or a 
model, a desirable mate will be available to you; if you don't, it wont. Try 
telling me that living with that message your whole life hasn't changed 
the way you feel about yourself. 

Growing up in an erotically charged media environment alters the 
very foundations of our personalities. I think it distorts our sexuality. It 
changes the way you feel when someone suddenly puts their hand on 
your shoulder, hugs you, or flirts with you through the car window. I 
think the constant flow of commercially scripted pseudosex, rape and 
pornography makes us more voyeuristic, insatiable and aggressive — 
even though I can't prove it with hard facts. 

Similarly, I have no hard proof that daily exposure to media vio- 
lence shapes the way you feel about crime and punishment, or affects 
the way you feel about that guy standing next to you at the bus stop. 
What I do know is that my natural instinct for spontaneity, camaraderie 
and trust has been blunted. I used to pick up hitchhikers; now I hardly 
ever do. I rarely speak to strangers anymore. 

TV programming is inundated by sex and violence because the 
networks have determined they are an efficient way to produce audi- 
ences. The commercial media are to the mental environment what fac- 
tories are to the physical environment. A factory dumps pollutants into 
the water or air because that's the most efficient way to produce plastic 
or wood pulp or steel. A TV or radio station "pollutes" the cultural envi- 
ronment because that's the most efficient way to produce audiences. It 
pays to pollute. The psychic fallout is just the cost of putting on the 


Advertisements are the most prevalent and toxic of the mental pollu- 
tants. From the moment your radio alarm sounds in the morning to the 

The Ecology of Mind 19 

wee hours of late-night TV, microjolts of commercial pollution flood 
into your brain at the rate of about three thousand marketing messages 
per day. Every day, an estimated 12 billion display ads, 3 million radio 
commercials, and more than 200,000 TV commercials are dumped into 
North America's collective unconscious. 

Corporate advertising (or is it the commercial media?) is the 
largest single psychological project ever undertaken by the human 
race. Yet for all of that, its impact on us remains unknown and largely 
ignored. When I think of the media's influence over years, over 
decades, I think of those brainwashing experiments conducted by Dr. 
Ewen Cameron in a Montreal psychiatric hospital in the 1950s. The 
idea of the CIA-sponsored "depatterning" experiments was to outfit 
conscious, unconscious or semiconscious subjects with headphones, 
and flood their brains with thousands of repetitive "driving" messages 
that would alter their behavior over time. Sound familiar? Advertising 
aims to do the same thing. Dr. Cameron's guinea pigs emerged from 
the Montreal trials with serious psychological damage. It was a great 
scandal. But no one is saying boo about the ongoing experiment of 
mass media advertising. In fact, new guinea pigs voluntarily come on 
board every day. 

The proliferation of commercial messages has happened so 
steadily and relentlessly that we haven't quite woken up to the absurdity 
of it all. No longer are ads confined to the usual places: buses, bill- 
boards, stadiums. Anywhere your eyes can possibly come to rest is now 
a place that, in corporate America's view, can and ought to be filled with 
a logo or product message. 

You reach down to pull your golf ball out of the hole and there, at 
the bottom of the cup, is an ad for a brokerage firm. You fill your car 
with gas, there's an ad on the nozzle. You wait for your bank machine 
to spit out money and an ad pushing GICs scrolls by in the little win- 
dow. You drive through the heartland and the view of the wheatfields is 
broken at intervals by enormous billboards. Your kids watch Pepsi and 
Snickers ads in the classroom. (The school has made the devil's bargain 
of accepting free audiovisual equipment in exchange for airing these 

20 Culture Jam 

ads on "Channel One.") You think you've seen it all, but you haven't. An 
Atlanta-based marketing firm announces plans to send an inflatable 
billboard filled with corporate logos into geostationary orbit viewable 
every night like a second moon. British sprinter Linford Christie 
appears at a press conference with little panthers replacing the pupils 
of his eyes, where his sponsor's logo has been imprinted on specially 
made contact lenses. New York software engineers demonstrate a pro- 
gram that turns your cursor into a corporate icon whenever you visit a 
commercial site. A Japanese schoolboy becomes a neon sign during his 
daily two-hour subway commute by wearing a battery-powered vest 
promoting an electronics giant. Administrators in a Texas school dis- 
trict announce plans to boost revenues by selling ad space on the roofs 
of the district's seventeen schools — arresting the attention of the fifty- 
eight million commercial jet passengers who fly into Dallas each year. 
Kids tattoo their calves with swooshes. Other kids, at raves, begin wear- 
ing actual bar codes that other kids can scan, revealing messages such 
as "I'd like to sleep with you." A boy named David Bentley in Sydney, 
Australia, literally rents his head to corporate clients, shaving a new ad 
into his hair every few weeks. ("I know for sure that at least two thou- 
sand teenagers at my high school will read my head every day to see 
what it says," says the young entrepreneur. "I just wish I had a bigger 
head.") You pick up a banana in the supermarket and there, on a little 
sticker, is an ad for the new summer blockbuster at the multiplex. ("It's 
interactive because you have to peel them off," says one ad executive of 
this new delivery system. "And people look at ten pieces of fruit before 
they pick one, so we get multiple impressions.") Boy Scouts in the U.K. 
sell corporate ad space on their merit badges. An Australian radio sta- 
tion dyes its logo on two million eggs. IBM beams its logo onto clouds 
above San Francisco with a scanning electron microscope and a laser — 
the millennial equivalent of Commissioner Gordon summoning Bat- 
man to the Batcave. (The image is visible from ten miles away.) 
Bestfoods unveils plans to stamp its Skippy brand of peanut butter 
onto the crisp tabula rasa of a New Jersey beach each morning at low 
tide, where it will push peanut butter for a few hours before being 

The Ecology of Mind 21 

washed away by the waves. (The company is widely commended for its 
environmental responsibility.) Coca-Cola strikes a six-month deal 
with the Australian postal service for the right to cancel stamps with a 
Coke ad. A company called VideoCarte installs interactive screens on 
supermarket carts so that you can see ads while you shop. (A company 
executive calls the little monitors "the most powerful micromarketing 
medium available today.") 

A few years ago, marketers began installing ad boards in men's 
washrooms on college campuses, at eye level above the urinals. From 
their perspective, it was a brilliant coup: Where else is a guy going to 
look? But when I first heard this was being done, I was incensed. One of 
the last private acts was being co-opted. "What's been the reaction on 
campus?" I asked the reporter who told me the story. "Not much reac- 
tion," he said. It became apparent, as these ad boards began springing 
up in bars and restaurants, and just about anywhere men stand to pee, 
that not only did guys not share my outrage, they actually welcomed a 
little diversion while nature took its course. 

This flood of psycho-effluent is spreading all around us, and we 
love every minute of it. The adspeak means nothing. It means worse 
than nothing. It is "anti-language" that, whenever it runs into truth and 
meaning, annihilates it. 

There is nowhere to run. No one is exempt and no one will be 
spared. In the silent moments of my life, I often used to hear the open- 
ing movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony play in my head. Now I 
hear that kid singing the Oscar Meyer Wiener song. 


At a recent Adbusters Media Foundation office party, two young guys 
walked in the door, grabbed a beer and went straight to the computers, 
where they surfed the Net for two hours. Except for a few minutes here 
and there when people came up behind them and commented on 
something, they had no social interaction whatsoever. I know these 
guys. They are both very bright. They'd score well up there on IQ tests. 

22 Culture Jam 

But I wondered how they'd score on a "reality index" — which I define as 
the ratio of time spent in a virtual versus a "real" environment. The 
measurement is easy enough to calculate. Jot down in a notebook the 
number of times a day you laugh at real jokes with real people in real 
situations against the number of times you laugh at media-generated 
jokes, the amount of sex you have against the amount of sex you watch, 
and so on. 

As psychoenvironmental indexes go, it might be quite revealing. 

We face more and more opportunities and incentives to spend 
time in cyberspace or to let the TV do the thinking. This is "unreality": 
a mediated world so womblike and seductive, it's hard not to conclude 
it's a pretty nice place to be. In that world of unreality, it's easy to forget 
you're a citizen and that the actual world is an interactive place. The 
other day as I sat staring at my toaster, waiting for a bagel to pop up, I 
suddenly felt as if I was about to receive a jolt. There's a kind of internal 
"clock" that people who work with computers develop. There's a finite 
amount of time you're allowed to be still and silent (before, for exam- 
ple, the screensaver kicks in), so you develop a sixth sense that tells you 
when that time is up. It occurred to me, looking at the toaster, that I had 
not moved a mouse or a cursor for about a minute, and I had the dis- 
tinct feeling I was about to be "dumped" off-line. I was going to lose my 
connection. Then the bagel popped up, jarring me back to the sensory 
world. The smell reached my nose and I thought of the old Woody Allen 
line, in a paraphrase: Whatever you think of reality, it's still the only 
place to get a good toasted bagel. 

Erosion of Empathy 

A wave of shock is striking society that is so new we don't yet have a 
name for it. It was concocted by advertisers who saw that consumers 
had become too jaded and media-sawy to respond to mere sexual titil- 
lation or intellectual games. The new shock ads go straight to the soul. 
They aren't clever or coy so much as deeply, morbidly unsettling. Adver- 
tising Age columnist Bob Garfield calls them "advertrocities." Benetton's 

The Ecology of Mind 23 
dying AIDS patients and dead Bosnian soldiers. Calvin Klein models 
drowsing in shooting galleries with hunted, heroin-hollowed eyes. 
Diesel jeans' cryptic "ads within ads," set in North Korea, featuring 
images of skinny models on the side of a bus packed with (presumably) 
starving, suffering locals. ("There's no limit to how thin you can get," 
says the ad on the bus.) 

I think these ads are operating on a deeper level than even the 
advertisers themselves know or understand. Their cumulative effect 
is to erode our ability to empathize, to take social issues seriously, to 
be moved by atrocity. They inure us to the suffering (or joy) of 
other people. They engender an attitude of malaise toward the things 
that make us most human. We pretend not to care as advertisers exca- 
vate the most sacred parts of ourselves, and we end up actually not 

The first time we saw a starving child on a late-night TV ad, we 
were appalled. Maybe we sent money. As these images became more 
familiar though, our compassion evaporated. Eventually, these ads 
started to repulse us. Now we never want to see another starving child 
again. Our sensitivity to violence has been eroded by the same process 
of attrition; likewise our sexual responsiveness. 

There was a time when Claudia Schiffer in her Guess? jeans got our 
attention. Now she and her supermodel ilk hardly raise an eyebrow, and 
real people look downright asexual. The motherboard of our libido has 
been reseeded. 

This blunting of our emotions is a self-perpetuating process. The 
more our psyches are corroded, the more desensitized we become to the 
corrosive. The more indifferent we become, the more voltage it takes to 
shock us. On it goes, until our minds become a theater of the absurd, 
and we become shockproof. 

Information Overload 

There is more information in the Sunday New York Times than the aver- 
age person living during the Renaissance would have absorbed in a life- 

24 Culture Jam 

time. The information glut, the so-called data smog hanging low in the 
valleys, calls to mind the bewildered student's lament: "I don't need to 
know any more— I already know more than I can understand." Infor- 
mation overload gave William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic something 
called the "black shakes." That's a science fiction conceit, but anyone 
who ever bought a satellite dish or logged onto the Lexis/Nexis database 
can surely identify. 

"Most information has long stopped being useful for us," wrote 
Neil Postman, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death. "Informa- 
tion has become a form of garbage. It comes indiscriminately — 
directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are 
swamped by information, have no control over it and do not know 
what to do with it. And the reason we don't is that we no longer have 
a coherent conception of ourselves, our universe and our relation to 
one another and our world. We do not know where we came from, 
where we are going or why we are going there. We have no coherent 
framework to direct our definition of our problems or our search for 
their solutions. Therefore, we have no criteria for judging what is 
meaningful, useful, or relevant information. Our defenses against the 
information glut have broken down; our information immune system 
is inoperable." 

I nf otoxi n s 

If we now absorb a surreal quantity of information, then the quality of 
that information is even more disturbing. The reality presented to us by 
the media always has a spin on it. Ads stretch the truth, news bites give 
only part of the story, and White House press releases are carefully tai- 
lored to make the president look good. We are constantly being hyped, 
suckered and lied to. 

The marketers, spin doctors and PR agents who produce this pro- 
paganda realize what we as a society hate to admit: Disinformation 

Do an overwhelming number of respected scientists believe that 

The Ecology of Mind 25 

human actions are changing the Earth's climate? Yes. OK, that being the 
case, let's undermine that by rinding and funding those few contrarians 
who believe otherwise. Promote their message widely and it will accu- 
mulate in the mental environment, just as toxic mercury accumulates in 
a biological ecosystem. Once enough of the toxin has been dispersed, 
the balance of public understanding will shift. Fund a low-level cam- 
paign to suggest that any threat to the car is an attack on personal free- 
doms. Create a "grassroots" group to defend the right to drive. Portray 
anticar activists as prudes who long for the days of the horse and buggy. 
Then sit back, watch your infotoxins spread — and get ready to sell big- 
ger, better cars for years and years to come. 

Can we come up with antidotes to these infoviruses that infect our 
minds? The answer may depend on how much we've ingested of the 
most powerful and persistent infotoxin of them all: cynicism. 

Loss of Infodiversity 

Information diversity is as critical to our long-term survival as biodi- 
versity. Both are parts of the bedrock of human existence. And so, 
when one man gains control of more than half a country's daily news- 
papers (as is the case with Conrad Black in Canada), or amasses a 
global media empire the size of Rupert Murdoch's, it's a serious prob- 
lem; the scope of public discourse shrinks. When a handful of media 
megacorporations control not only the daily newspapers and TV air- 
waves but the magazine, book publishing, motion picture, home 
video and music industries as well, information and cultural diversity 
both plummet. 

A 1998 survey of eleven- to fifteen-year-old boys and girls in a 
school in Kathmandu revealed that their favorite TV program was MTV 
and the most popular radio station was Hits FM, a western music chan- 
nel. Few of the students ever watched Nepal Television or India's Door- 
darshan. In a dozen Asia- Pacific countries surveyed by the A. C. Nielsen 
company the same year, Coke was the favorite drink in eleven (in Thai- 
land, the favorite drink was Pepsi). In downtown London, Bangkok, 

26 Culture Jam 

Tokyo or Los Angeles, you will invariably see a McDonald's restaurant 
on one corner, a Benetton store on the other and a bunch of transna- 
tional corporate logos across the street. 

Cultural homogenization has graver consequences than the same 
hairstyles, catchphrases, music and action-hero antics perpetrated ad 
nauseam around the world. In all systems, homogenization is poison. 
Lack of diversity leads to inefficiency and failure. The loss of a lan- 
guage, tradition or heritage — or the forgetting of one good idea— is as 
big a loss to future generations as a biological species going extinct. 

An Environmental Movement 
of the Mind 

"There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to 
live in harmony with its surroundings . . . Then a strange blight crept 
over the area and everything began to change." 

The fictitious town that fell prey to this "strange illness" in Rachel 
Carson's famous environmental manifesto Silent Spring is a kind of 
Everytown, U.S.A. Once there was fecundity and the happy buzz of 
diverse life. Then human intervention caught up with nature. In this 
quiet season, no chicks hatched. The cattle and sheep sickened and died. 
No birds returned; the farmers spoke of much illness in their families. 
"It was," Carson says, "a spring without voices." 

No witchcraft, no enemy action or natural catastrophe silenced the 
rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people did it themselves — 
with chemicals and pesticides. 

The language and the metaphors Carson used thirty years ago 
apply equally well to the mental environment we have created for our- 
selves today. A single voice fills Everytown now; at its say-so, all the 
sheep lie down in sync. Life in this stricken, alien world has not so much 
been silenced as reengineered. 

We cannot continue polluting our minds. We cannot allow adver- 
tisers to continue preying on our emotions. We cannot allow a handful 

The Ecology of Mind 27 

of media conglomerates to seize control of the global communications 
superstructure. Silent Spring and other books and documentaries of its 
time shocked us into realizing that our natural environment was dying, 
and catalyzed a wave of activism that changed the world. Now it's time 
to do the same for our mental environment. 


Twenty-five years ago, when the world had not quite lost all of its inno- 
cence and idealism, I was living in a film commune, churning out 
experimental films — short five- to ten-minute cultural commentaries. 
All the members of our commune were fascinated with film and its 
seemingly magical power to change the world. We showed our shorts to 
small groups around the Pacific Northwest for a couple of years, but 
yearned for wider exposure. It occurred to us to condense some of our 
most incisive efforts into thirty- and sixty-second TV spots and air 
them as paid "uncommercial" messages. In those days, a local thirty- 
second timeslot after midnight cost only about $50. Even we could 
afford that. I walked into the network headquarters of the Canadian 
Broadcasting Corporation with a few hundred dollars in my pocket and 
tried to buy some airtime. The sales department was on the second 
floor of a tawdry downtown Vancouver building. I remember feeling 
intimidated and eventually being laughed out of the office. "I don't 
know what this is," the manager in charge of sales told me as he looked 
over our storyboards, "but it's not a commercial." 

I thought it was strange that a citizen willing to pay couldn't buy 

30 Culture Jam 

airtime on Canada's public broadcasting system. I sent a letter to the 
Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission — 
Canadian broadcasting's governing body — asking about the rights of 
citizens to access the public airwaves. I got a very polite letter back say- 
ing basically that the whole area was murky, that networks had some 
rights, individuals had some rights, the law was inconclusive on this 
point, blah, blah, blah. And that was that. I moved on to a career in doc- 
umentary filmmaking and the free speech issue slipped to the back of 
my mind — until 1989. 

That year, British Columbia's logging industry, its image rapidly 
tarnishing, launched a multimillion-dollar PR campaign. Bus-stop 
posters went up all over Vancouver, and every night when I switched on 
my TV there was another smooth pitch explaining the wonderful job 
the industry was doing managing the forests. This slick series of spots, 
produced by one of the biggest ad agencies in town, always ended with 
the upbeat reassurance that we British Columbians need have no fear. 
Our forests were in good hands, they were being well managed, and we 
would have "Forests Forever." This slogan spread like an infovirus 
throughout the province. 

Those British Columbians who knew what was really happening in 
the forests were livid. The industry was blatantly lying. In truth, the 
forests of B.C. and the Pacific Northwest have a history of appalling 
management. For years the timber companies (whose executives held 
the view that a tree is just an unemployed log) cut too much old-growth 
too quickly and without proper public consultation. Consequently, the 
hills were scarred with clear-cuts, and salmon runs were contaminated 
and dying. There had been mass demonstrations and civil disobedience 
to stop this liquidation of the Earth's richest temperate rain forests. 

So a group of us — including myself, wilderness cinematographer 
Bill Schmalz and half a dozen other environmental activists — came up 
with our own campaign. "Mystical Forests" tried to tell the other side of 
the story: The industry was logging at an unsustainable rate and the 
future of forestry in our province was in jeopardy. 

When we tried to buy airtime for our ad, the TV stations turned us 

Media Virus 31 
down. At the CBC, the same sales manager who had laughed me out of 
his office fifteen years earlier again wouldn't take our money (this time 
he did not laugh). He refused "Mystical Forests" even while he contin- 
ued to sell airtime to the "Forests Forever" campaign. It seemed ludi- 
crous, undemocratic, and it made us furious. 

We mobilized in retaliation. We issued press releases, hounded 
journalists and protested in front of forest company headquarters. 
There were editorials in the local papers, TV news coverage, appear- 
ances on radio talk shows — and suddenly the forest company executives 
were backpedaling. Their promise of "Forests Forever" caved in under 
scrutiny. We popped their multimillion-dollar PR bubble right in their 
faces and suddenly the CBC was on the defensive as well. Hundreds of 
British Columbians phoned the CBC's head office demanding to know 
why environmentalists couldn't buy airtime whereas the forest industry 

A few weeks later, unexpectedly, the CBC had a change of heart. 
They never did air our spot, but they pulled the "Forests Forever" cam- 
paign — a major loss of face for the industry and a big boost for the 
environmentalists. Many British Columbians — some for the first 
time — started having doubts about what was really happening in their 
forests, and, more to the point, started seriously questioning what was 
being sold on TV as truth. 

We'd beaten the forest industry at its own game — on a budget of 
zero. We felt euphoric, and that heady mood gave birth to the Adbusters 
Media Foundation (usually just called Adbusters or the Media Founda- 
tion). We decided to produce more TV campaigns about the seminal 
issues of our time, and to insist on our right to purchase commercial 
airtime for those issues. We also launched the media activist networking 
magazine Adbusters, and, a little later, the Culture Jammer's Campaign 
Headquarters on the World Wide Web ( 

We produced the "Autosaurus" TV campaign (a takedown of the 
auto industry involving a rampaging dinosaur made of scrap cars), 
"Obsession Fetish" (a critique of the fashion industry featuring a 
bulimic Kate Moss look-alike), "TV Turnoff Week" (a yearly campaign 

32 Culture Jam 

encouraging TV abstinence) and "Buy Nothing Day" — and all of them 
were systematically, repeatedly rejected by not only the CBC but by all 
the North American TV networks, including the big three: NBC, CBS 
and ABC. (CNN would eventually air the "Buy Nothing Day" ad, but 
only after a pit bull terrier of a Wall Street Journal reporter put pressure 
on the network to justify its refusal.) Now, these are not crummy low- 
budget commercials that offended the networks' delicate sensibilities. 
They're effective and professional. The networks could not and did not 
object to how they looked. They objected to what they said. 
And the stonewalling continues to this day. 

Sometimes the hypocrisy is maddeningly blatant. Every Christmas 
season, the airwaves are full of consumption messages as our culture 
embarks on another whirlwind buying binge. But year after year the big 
three networks have refused to sell us airtime for our "Buy Nothing 
Day" announcement. 

Over the years, I've spent dozens of hours arguing with the net- 
work executives about why they're censoring us. Here's what some of 
them have had to say in their own defense: 

"There's no law that says we have to air anything — we'll decide 
what we want to air or not." 

— ABC New York station manager Art Moore 

"We don't want to take any advertising that's inimical to our 
legitimate business interests." 

— NBC network commercial clearance manager Richard Gitter 

"I dare you to get any station manager in this town to air your 

— CBS network's Libby Hawkins in New York 

"We don't sell airtime for issue ads because that would allow the 
people with the financial resources to control public policy." 

— CBS Boston public affairs manager Donald Lowery 

Media Virus 33 

"This commercial ["Buy Nothing Day"] . . . is in opposition to 
the current economic policy in the United States." 
— CBS network's Robert L. Lowary 

I get a creepy sense of d6ja vu listening to remarks like that. I was 
born in Estonia, where for fifty years during Soviet rule people were not 
allowed to speak up against the government. There simply were no 
media channels for debating controversial public issues because the 
government did not want such discussion to take place. Soviet dissi- 
dents used to talk about a "public sphere of discourse" that was missing 
from their country. The oppression of that era was rightly decried. Ulti- 
mately, a lot of Westerners watched the Soviet Union fall apart with 
some sense of vindication. 

In North America today there's a similar public void. There's a lack 
of media space in which to challenge consumptive, commercial and 
corporate agendas. In the former Soviet Union you weren't allowed to 
speak out against the government. In North America today you cannot 
speak out against the sponsors. 

This inability to speak up, this public information void, extends 
across all media at every level. Young reporters who cut their teeth on 
small-town newspapers invariably swap stories about how they ran 
into a wall the moment they tried to do real investigative work. The 
tales often go something like this: There's a smelter or a pulp mill on 
the outskirts of town. It employs a lot of the townsfolk and donates a 
lot of money to good causes. Unfortunately, it's an environmental 
nightmare: For years it's been dumping heavy metals into streams 
and poisoning the aquifer. The reporter tries to ferret out the facts. 
She calls the company's media liaison, who blows her off. She calls up 
that guy's boss, who fails to call back. The next day the publisher 
takes the reporter into her office and tells her to drop the story. "That 
company is an esteemed member of the community," she says. "Every 
year they buy a huge color supplement, and they host the annual 
summer barbecue that all the other advertisers attend. So just drop it. 
There are plenty of other things to write about. Look: They're paint- 

34 Culture Jam 

ing the tennis courts tomorrow. Go find the essential drama in that 

And up the chain it goes. 

The looming presence of big advertisers influences, if only subcon- 
sciously, every executive decision made in every newsroom across 
North America. Ninety percent of news editors surveyed in a 1992 Mar- 
quette University study said they'd experienced "direct pressure" from 
advertisers trying to influence content; more than a third admitted they 
had, at some point, caved in and done what the advertisers wanted. 
Important advertisers are stroked with "soft" pieces designed to move 
product while important stories are buried. 

The most high-minded, ethically intentioned networks and publi- 
cations are not above striking Faustian pacts. 

The PBS flagship NewsHour, which is underwritten by Archer 
Daniels Midland, conveniently ignored the agribusiness giant's price- 
fixing scandal throughout 1995. 

The New Yorker magazine recently cut a deal with Crystal Cruises, 
wherein the magazine agreed to send seven of its high-profile writers 
and editors on a world cruise aboard a Crystal cruiseliner (the staffers 
are required to give some on -board lectures). Its back thus scratched, 
Crystal agreed to buy six full pages of ad space in the magazine, and it 
promptly began promoting the cruise ("The New YorkerGoes to Sea!"), 
aiming its ads at rich travelers hoping to gain a little wit and sophistica- 
tion by osmosis. 

Where will all this dirty dancing eventually lead us? The answer 
may lie in cyberspace, where objective "news" stories already feature 
hypertext links to advertising merchants. Book giant Barnes & Noble 
pays The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to send readers who 
click on highlighted titles directly to the store's virtual headquarters 
(where they can order the book themselves). 

With this precedent set, many observers predict the full infiltration 
of commercial forces into all on-line content. You'll read an obituary of 
country crooner John Denver and grow nostalgic. But here's relief: 
Double-click on "Rocky Mountain High" and you'll find yourself at the 

Media Virus 35 
virtual headquarters of the record company selling a boxed set of Den- 
ver's greatest hits. You like the sound of a company mentioned in a busi- 
ness story on Silicon Valley start-ups? Why not buy the stock from this 
on-line brokerage house? Just double-click here. 

In 1997, Chrysler, one of the five largest advertisers in the U.S., sent 
letters to one hundred newspaper and magazine editors demanding to 
review their publications for stories that could prove damaging or con- 
troversial. "In an effort to avoid potential conflicts, it is required that 
Chrysler corporation be alerted in advance of any and all editorial con- 
tent that encompasses sexual, political, social issues or any editorial 
content that could be construed as provocative or offensive." According 
to a spokesperson at Chrysler, every single letter was signed in agree- 
ment and returned. This kind of editorial control is widely, quietly 
practiced throughout the industry. 

In today's media environment, advertisers rule — the sponsor is 
king. That ideology is now so entrenched within media circles as to have 
become an unspoken operational code. Lessons about power, privilege 
and access are learned at the lower levels by young writers who take this 
received wisdom with them as they move up the media ladder. From the 
smallest community weeklies to the big city and national dailies, from 
Forbes and Details and Cosmo to the NBC, ABC and CBS networks, our 
whole social communications system is rotten to the core. 


Sidewalk BubbleguM ©«9S Cli^BuHen 


On America's Funniest Home Videos, two young men set up a high bench 
under the basketball hoop. Then one of them comes racing into the 
frame, leaps off the bench, stuffs the ball and exits stage left, triumphant. 
The second fellow tries to repeat the feat, with less luck. He barrels in, 
misses his footing and straddles the bench, hard. There is a roar of 
laughter. People in the studio audience are literally doubled over with 
mirth. You suddenly realize you're chuckling too. 

But what, exactly, is so funny? The pratfall was hardly surprising: 
Groin injuries are the very denominator of this show. It's not Buster 
Keaton material. In fact, the stunt was so obviously set up, the hapless 
kid so obviously a dupe sacrificed at the altar of brief nationwide TV 
exposure that the authentic response should probably have been pity. 
Or shame. 

And yet you laughed. You laughed because all the cues told you to. 
The laugh track and the audience reaction shot double-teamed you. 
Mostly, you laughed because some network executive in a corner office 
in Burbank gets paid $500,000 a year to make sure you do. You laughed 
in the same places that the live studio audience laughed, give or take a 

38 Culture Jam 

little after-the-fact digital modification. The bell rang and you salivated. 
(Network executives get very nervous about comedies without the sign- 
posting of a computer-generated laugh track, which is why such shows 
are rare. "I come from a place where getting a laugh from an audience is 
a rather sacred and holy thing," said writer Aaron Sorkin, while trying to 
sell reluctant ABC brass on a laugh-trackless format for his new show 
called Sports Night. "To make one up by pushing a button on a com- 
puter bothers me in a place I don't like to be bothered.") 

It's Friday night and you're watching that old classic Risky Business. 
A preposterously young-looking Tom Cruise is wearing Ray'Ban Way- 
farers, just like yours. Is this a coincidence? The movie came out around 
about the time your sense of cool was embryonic. You don't remember 
making a conscious choice about eyewear. The fact is, though, that 
when it came time to buy sunglasses, you chose RayBan. And you still 
wear them and you still think they're sharp. So you begin to wonder 
about this product-placement thing. Just how many other commodity 
signs are slipping into the Hollywood image stream and influencing 
your purchasing decisions? The laptop computer you picked up last 
year. Isn't that the one they used to save the world in Independence Day 7 . 
The Dr Pepper you just bought on impulse. Didn't Forrest Gump drink 
that stuff? 

It used to be jarring to see an actor reach for a Heineken or bring 
home a tub of Baskin-Robbins ice cream. It meant that reality was 
intruding on the generic dream world, and it broke the spell. But prod- 
uct placements are everywhere in movies now. (Most people peg the 
birth of product placement as a full-blown trend to the trail of Reese's 
Pieces the little alien laid down in E.T., in 1982.) Yet because they're 
everywhere, they're nowhere. You don't really notice them. Just as you 
probably don't notice brand names in novels or songs. All fictions 
grounded in the facts of our life are an easier sell. We'll believe a charac- 
ter who drinks Miller before we'll believe a character who drinks "beer." 

What this means is that we're now ripe for manipulation. We can 
be buzzed by logos without noticing. This is not so different from being 

The Manchurian Consumer 39 

buzzed by a laugh track. We've backgrounded these things and — at least 
consciously — tuned them out. We've given up mental control. To 
whom? To the dozens of entertainment marketing agencies in the U.S. 
that specialize in moving products into (and out of!) scripts before 
movies are ever shot. They act as middlemen between culture and com- 
merce. They spin like lathes behind the scenes so that you don't even 
think to ask why, for instance, there was only one reference to Nike in 
Jerry Maguire — a movie shot through with the Nike ethos of athlete 
commodification. (The answer: because Reebok paid Tristar Pictures a 
million and a half bucks for merchandising, advertising and promotion 
of its product.) 

Some companies pay for placement, others don't. So you don't 
know if the Coke in the frame just happens to be there or if someone 
paid $100,000 to put it there. You don't know how to distinguish 
between the story narrative and the corporate-cultural narrative. What 
does it mean when you don't know? What does it do to your cultural 
gyrostabilizers, your sense of where, and who, you are? 


It's August 31, 1997. You catch the breaking news about the death 
of Princess Diana. Frankly, you couldn't care less about the monarchy, 
but there was something about plucky Di's style that you liked. You fol- 
low the saturation TV coverage: the aftermath, the analysis, the condo- 
lences, the funeral. Elton John sings a lachrymose tune and you find 
yourself weeping in front of your set. It's the middle of the night. The 
"people's princess" is dead. 

Something very odd is happening. You're crying, but you can't 
locate the source of your tears. It occurs to you that you cried less when 
some real people you knew — friends and even family members — died. 
And yet you're crying now. It's crazy. And you're not alone. The global 
"grieving" for Diana borders on mass hysteria. A lot of people, pressed 
to articulate why they're so sad, admit they're not sad for Di so much as 
they're sad for the idea of being genuinely sad for someone like her — in 
the way that teenagers will sometimes admit to being in love with being 
in love. 

40 Culture Jam 

In death Princess Di has become a legend. More than that, she has 
become a cultural signifier, like the swoosh or the Golden Arches. She 
has what French new-wave philosopher Jean Baudrillard called "com- 
modity sign value." Her face became paired in our minds with all the 
good things: compassion, humility, philanthropy, love. She had become 
the quintessential heroine of our culture, what we all wanted to be. For 
fifteen years, she dressed herself for the media and sold herself publicly, 
flirting with the camera (even as she claimed to despise the photogra- 
phers), and for fifteen years we consumed her. She created the unforget- 
table media moments that primed the tears we cried in front of the TV 
set. When we bought Di, we bought the brand, not the product. 


Take stock of your life. Look around at what you drive, wear, eat, 
smoke, read. Are these things you 7 . Would an anthropologist, given a pile 
of all your material possessions, be able to assemble an accurate portrait 
of your personality? Would that portrait reflect a true original or a 
"type"? That laugh you laughed while watching the basketball player get 
nutted, and those tears you cried for Diana, were they real? Were they 

If they weren't, you may find yourself wondering: What else about 
me isn't authentic? Do I really like diamonds? Do I find my partner 
attractive? Do I actually prefer single-malt scotch? Why am I scared to 
travel to Egypt? Are the myriad daily choices I make, apparently freely, 
truly the product of my own will? 

Richard Condon's 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate — which 
was turned into a movie Pauline Kael called "the most sophisticated 
political satire ever to come out of Hollywood" — tells the story of an 
American soldier who is captured during the Korean War, shipped to 
Manchuria and groomed, via brainwashing, to become a robotic assas- 
sin programmed to kill the U.S. president upon a predetermined verbal 

The subtext of the movie is that Americans are being depatterned 
by propaganda systems they may not understand or even be aware of. 
The modern consumer is indeed a Manchurian Candidate living in a 

The Manchurian Consumer 41 

trance. He has a vague notion that at some point early in his life, exper- 
iments were carried out on him, but he can't remember much about 
them. While he was drugged, or too young to remember, ideas were 
implanted into his subconscious with a view to changing his behavior. 
The Manchurian Consumer has been programmed not to kill the pres- 
ident, but to go out and purchase things on one of a number of prede- 
termined commands. 

Slogans now come easily to his lips. He has warm feelings toward 
many products. Even his most innate drives and emotions trigger 
immediate connections with consumer goods. Hunger equals Big Mac. 
Drowsiness equals Starbucks. Depression equals Prozac. 

And what about that burning anxiety, that deep, almost forgotten 
feeling of alarm at his lost independence and sense of self? To the 
Manchurian Consumer, that's the signal to turn on the TV. 


I know a young man who has spent the last few years surfing the elec- 
tronic media. His whole existence has become a surfin' safari. Nothing is 
more or less important than anything else. He's supernatural now. He 
picks up a book, skims a sentence. Looks at a bit of this and a bit of that. 
He absorbs everything, but not deeply. Everything is nonlinear. Nothing 
can be sustained — not his interest in his job or his colleagues, not even 
his marriage: If it's not going well, his first instinct is to surf away. 

In related news, a colleague recently watched his upstairs neighbor 
undergo a slow personality shift. It began when she discovered a partic- 
ular chat group on the Internet. Her mild curiosity about this new 
world grew into a full-fledged addiction. Day and night she jumped in 
and out of conversations with strangers on one topic or another. These 
strangers, who may or may not use their real names or genders, who 
may or may not tell the truth, came to seem almost like friends. She 
knew some of them as if they were family. 

She lost ten pounds after discovering this chat group — because she 
forgot to eat. "Sometimes I go out," she'd say, but she didn't mean "out" 
out, she meant "out" of that chat group and into another site some- 

44 Culture Jam 

where else on the Net. She was reluctant to sleep because she might miss 
an interesting thread. One time my friend saw her on the street, and she 
hadn't showered in four days. 

Now she's a very smart woman, but her addiction — she calls it that 
herself— changed her. She grew so accustomed to typing her thoughts 
that her verbal skills suffered. She spoke too quickly, running her words 
together so that it all sounded like one long word. Her eyes were fixed 
and liquid and her teeth were a strange color. She behaved erratically. 
She vacuumed at all hours. At one point she considered getting another 
e-mail address under another name, so she could "flame" herself. 

A psychologist might diagnose this woman as being in the early 
stages of some dissociative disorder. But she's still fairly grounded com- 
pared to others who have more fully immersed themselves in cybercul- 

All across the Net, people (mostly young men) haunt cyberhang- 
outs called MUDs (Multiple-User Domains), where role-playing fan- 
tasy games are always in progress. These places are as complex and 
esoteric as the imaginations of the players allow. They are "transforma- 
tive," in that they let the user determine the outcome. 

In her book Life on the Screen, American psychoanalyst Sherry 
Turkle describes one young man, an inveterate webcrawler, who's a 
character in six MUDs at the same time. In each MUD he is a different 
person: a teenage girl, a history professor, a dog, an Arthurian knight, a 
cyborg and William S. Burroughs. In none of them is he actually him- 
self. Yet each persona has come to feel as real to him as his "real" self. 
When not directly participating in one group, he sometimes puts that 
self to "sleep." The character is still in the game, can interact with other 
players on a superficial level via artificial- intelligence programs, and can 
summon the real guy back to assume his MUD alter ego via a "page" if 
something exciting is about to happen. 

Reading this story about mediated self-constructions reminded 
me of an article Ann Beattie wrote for Esquire about ten years ago. She 
had tagged along with a bunch of Japanese tourists on a bus ride 
through San Francisco. What struck her was the way the passengers, 

Post hum an 45 

confronted with scenes of beauty or recognizable iconography (like the 
Golden Gate Bridge), reflexively put their cameras to their eyes. Only 
when these things were thus "framed" did they become valid. Only 
when they were memorialized on film did they live. This, I think, is the 
hazardous fallout from an overmediated world, where nothing that 
happens becomes real until you can make it fit into the spectacle, or 
make the spectacle fit into it. "I knew a Californian who read his poetry 
aloud at parties until his friends learned to silence him," writes anthro- 
pologist Edmund Carpenter in his book Oh, What a Blow That Phan- 
tom Gave Me! "But when he played recordings of these same poems, 
everybody listened." The Situationists might say such tales, as they accu- 
mulate, mark the end of authentic experience, and therefore the end of 
the authentic self. 

Perhaps there's no such thing as an authentic self. Maybe Walt 
Whitman was right: We contain multitudes. Part child, part adult. 
Androgynes. Cyborgs. We understand intuitively that machines are 
becoming more like humans, and now via the promise of virtual reality 
we have the opportunity to meet machines halfway. 

The MUD aficionados Sherry Turkle investigates in her books tend 
to use the Net to create bigger and better (nonauthentic) selves. They 
often use it to beef up the parts of their lives that are failing in the real, 
concrete world. In Life on the Screen, we meet Matthew, the nineteen- 
year-old son of a distant, alcoholic dad. In actual life his girlfriend had 
dumped him, but on the Net his chivalrous MUD persona was enor- 
mously attractive to women. Then we meet Gordon, who likewise 
invests his on-line characters with "qualities he's trying to develop in 
himself." The game, Turkle concludes, "has heightened his sense of self 
as a work in progress." 

Turkle coins the term "slippages" to refer to "places where persona 
and self merge, where the multiple personae join to comprise what the 
individual thinks of as his or her authentic self." MUD addicts end up 
inhabiting a world somewhere between real life and virtual life. It's too 
real to be a game, yet too artificial to be real. They hover in "the gap." 

To a lesser extent the same could be said of all of us creatures of the 

46 Culture Jam 

media age- — which is why a mortal's entry into the world of MUDs 
seems like a good metaphor for our immersion into what Turkle calls 
"the culture of simulation." A place where a word like "authenticity" 
may no longer even apply. 

If you spend enough time in cyberspace, emote commands start 
taking the place of emotions. "Emoticons" — those cunning little side- 
ways faces typed with punctuation marks — substitute for real smiles 
and frowns. Over time, the computer drives out what we thought was 
an innate art: living through all of our senses. In her short story "Web 
Central," Fay Weldon paints a portrait of a dystopic future along these 
lines: The privileged classes sit alone in sealed rooms with computer 
terminals, their moods regulated intravenously. 

The idea that spending a lot of time in cyberspace might have an ill 
effect on mental health has until recently been intuitively sensible but 
hard to prove. In August 1998, findings of the first concentrated study 
of the social and psychological effects of the Internet, a two-year effort 
by Carnegie Mellon University, were released. The results? Netheads 
were lonelier and more depressed than the average population. You'd 
guess that it might be because the lonely and depressed tend to gravitate 
to the Net. But that wasn't so. "Participants who were lonelier and more 
depressed, as determined by standard questionnaires at the start of the 
. . . study, were no more drawn to the Internet than those who were orig- 
inally happier and more socially engaged. Instead, Internet use itself 
appeared to cause a decline in psychological well-being." "Connect, dis- 
connect" may be our generation's answer to "Tune in, turn on, drop 

Eventually, and perhaps sooner rather than later, there lies a world 
where most human beings are simply incapable of experiencing the 
emotions that life ought to evoke. Whatever they see or hear or taste, no 
matter how raw and beautiful, will promptly be pillaged for its usable 
constituent parts. And of course, once an emotion is corrupted, it can 
never be wncorrupted. 

In John Irving's novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, the family matri- 
arch dies in front of the television, rigor mortis sets in and her thumb is 

Post hum an 47 
fixed on the remote. They find her body in front of the live set, the 
remote endlessly scanning the channels. It's a prophetic image. As we 
travel deeper into corporate-driven cyberspace, similar haunting figures 
loom on our own horizon. Fractured humans are laid waste in front of 
their wall-size TV-cyberscreens. Their attention spans flicker near zero, 
their imaginations have given out and they can no longer remember the 
past. Outside, the natural world has all but vanished and the social 
order is breaking down. The citizens of this new world order are 
trapped inside their living rooms, roaming the thousand-channel uni- 
verse and exercising the one freedom they still have left: to be the 
voyeurs of their own demise. 



A beeping truck, backing up in the alley, jolts you out of a scary 
dream — a mad midnight chase through a supermarket, ending with a 
savage beating at the hands of the Keebler elves. You sit up in a cold 
sweat, heart slamming in your chest. It was only a nightmare. Slowly, 
you reintegrate, remembering who and where you are. In your bed, in 
your little apartment, in the very town you grew up in. 

It's a "This Is Your Life" moment — a time for mulling and stock- 
taking. You are still here. Just a few miles from the place you had your 
first kiss, got your first job (drive-through window at Wendy's), bought 
your first car (73 Ford Torino), went nuts with the Wild Turkey on 
prom night and pulled that all-nighter at Kinko's, photocopying tran- 
scripts to send to the big schools back East. 

Those big dreams of youth didn't quite pan out. You didn't get into 
Harvard, didn't get courted by the Bulls, didn't land a recording con- 
tract with EMI (or anyone else), didn't make a million by age twenty- 
five. And so you scaled down your hopes of embarrassing riches to 
reasonable expectations of adequate comfort — the modest condo 
downtown, the Visa card, the Braun shaver, the one good Armani suit. 

52 Culture Jam 

Even this more modest star proved out of reach. The state college 
you graduated from left you with a $35,000 debt. The work you found 
hardly dented it: dreadful eight-to-six days in the circulation depart- 
ment of a bad lifestyle magazine. You learned to swallow hard and just 
do the job — until the cuts came and the junior people were cleared out 
with a week's severance pay and sober no-look nods from middle man- 
agement. You began paying the rent with Visa advances. You got call- 
display to avoid the collection agency. 

There remains only one thing no one has taken away, your only real 
equity. And you intend to enjoy fully that Fiat rustmaster this weekend. 
You can't run from your problems, but you may as well drive. Road 
Trip. Three days to forget it all. Three days of living like an animal (in 
the best possible sense), alert to sights and sounds and smells: Howard 
Stern on the morning radio, Slumber Lodge pools along the 1-14. "You 
may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile," sings David 
Byrne from a tape labeled "Road Tunes One." The Fiat is, of course, only 
large at heart. "You know what FIAT stands for?" Liv said when she first 
saw it. "Fix It Again, Tony." You knew then that this was a girl you could 
travel to the ends of the Earth with. Or at least to New York City. 

The itinerary is set. You will order clam chowder from the Soup 
Nazi, line up for standby Letterman tickets and wander around Times 
Square (Now cleaner! Safer!) with one eye on the Jumbotron. It's a place 
you've never been, though you live there in your mind. You will jog in 
Battery Park and sip Guinness at Michael's Pub on Monday night 
(Woody Allen's night), and you will dance with Liv in the Rainbow 
Room on her birthday. Ah Liv, who when you first saw her spraying 
Opium on her wrist at the cosmetics counter reminded you so much of 
Cindy Crawford — though of late she's put on a few pounds and now 
looks better when you close your eyes and imagine. 

And so you'll drive. You'll fuel up with Ho Ho's and Pez and Evian 
and magazines and batteries for your Discman, and then you'll bury the 
pedal under your Converse All-Stars — like the ones Kurt Cobain died in. 
Wayfarers on, needle climbing and the unspoken understanding that you 
and Liv will conduct the conversation entirely in movie catchphrases. 

The Cult You're In 53 

"Mrs. Nixon would like you to pass the Doritos." 

"You just keep thinking, Butch. That's what you're good at." 

"It's over, Rock. Nothing on Earth's gonna save you now." 

It occurs to you that you can't remember the last time Liv was just 
Liv and you were just you. You light up a Metro, a designer cigarette so 
obviously targeted at your demographic . . . which is why you steered 
clear of them until one day you smoked one to be ironic, and now you 
can't stop. 

You'll come back home in a week. Or maybe you won't. Why 
should you? What's there to come back fori On the other hand, why 
should you stay? 

A long time ago, without even realizing it, just about all of us were 
recruited into a cult. At some indeterminate moment, maybe when we 
were feeling particularly adrift or vulnerable, a cult member showed up 
and made a beautiful presentation. "I believe I have something to ease 
your pain." She made us feel welcome. We understood she was offering 
us something to give life meaning. She was wearing Nike sneakers and a 
Planet Hollywood cap. 

Do you feel as if you're in a cult? Probably not. The atmosphere is 
quite un-Moonielike. We're free to roam and recreate. No one seems to 
be forcing us to do anything we don't want to do. In fact, we feel privi- 
leged to be here. The rules don't seem oppressive. But make no mistake: 
There are rules. 

By consensus, cult members speak a kind of corporate Esperanto: 
words and ideas sucked up from TV and advertising. We wear uni- 
forms — not white robes but, let's say, Tommy Hilfiger jackets or Airwalk 
sneakers (it depends on our particular subsect). We have been recruited 
into roles and behavior patterns we did not consciously choose. 

Quite a few members ended up in the slacker camp. They're 
bunked in spartan huts on the periphery, well away from the others. 
There's no mistaking cult slackers for "downshifters" — those folks who 
have voluntarily cashed out of their high-paying jobs and simplified 
their lives. Slackers are downshifters by necessity. They live frugally 

54 Culture Jam 

because they are poor. (Underemployed and often overeducated, they 
may never get out of the rent-and-loan-repayment cycle.) 

There's really not much for the slackers to do from day to day. They 
hang out, never asking, never telling, just offering intermittent wry 
observations. They are postpolitical, postreligious. They don't define 
themselves by who they vote for or pray to (these things are pretty much 
prescribed in the cult anyway). They set themselves apart in the only 
way cult members can: by what they choose to wear and drive and listen 
to. The only things to which they confidently ascribe value are things 
other people have already scouted, deemed worthy and embraced. 

Cult members aren't really citizens. The notions of citizenship and 
nationhood make little sense in this world. We're not fathers and moth- 
ers and brothers: We're consumers. We care about sneakers, music and 
Jeeps. The only Life, Freedom, Wonder and Joy in our lives are the brands 
on our supermarket shelves. 

Are we happy? Not really. Cults promise a kind of boundless con- 
tentment — punctuated by moments of bliss — but never quite deliver 
on that promise. They fill the void, but only with a different kind of 
void. Disillusionment eventually sets in — or it would if we were allowed 
to think much about it. Hence the first commandment of a cult: Thou 
shalt not think. Free thinking will break the trance and introduce com- 
peting perspectives. Which leads to doubt. Which leads to contempla- 
tion of the nearest exit. 

How did all this happen in the first place? Why have we no mem- 
ory of it? When were we recruited? 

The first solicitations began when we were very young. If you close 
your eyes and think back, you may remember some of them. 

You are four years old, tugging on your mother's sleeve in the 
supermarket. There are products down here at eye level that she cannot 
see. Cool products with cartoon faces on them. Toys familiar from Sat- 
urday morning television. You want them. She keeps pushing her cart. 
You cry. She doesn't understand. 

You are eight. You have allowance money. You savor the buying 
experience. A Coke here, a Snickers bar there. Each little fix means not 

The Cult You're In 55 
just getting what you want, but power. For a few moments you are the 
center of attention. You call the shots. People smile and scurry around 
serving you. 

Michael Jordan goes up on your bedroom door. He is your first 
hero, throwing a glow around the first brand in your life — Nike. You 
wanna be like Mike. 

Other heroes follow. Sometimes they contradict each other. 
Michael Jackson drinks Pepsi but Michael Jordan drinks Coke. Who is 
the false prophet? Your friends reinforce the brandhunting. Wearing the 
same stuff and hearing the same music makes you a fraternity, united in 
soul and form. 

You watch TV. It's your sanctuary. You feel neither loneliness nor 
solitude here. 

You enter the rebel years. You strut the malls, brandishing a Dr 
Pepper can full of Scotch, which you drink right under the noses of the 
surveillance guards. One day you act drunk and trick them into "arrest- 
ing" you — only this time it actually is soda in the can. You are 
immensely pleased with yourself. 

You go to college, invest in a Powerbook, ride a Vespa scooter, don 
Doc Martens. In your town, a new sports complex and performing arts 
center name themselves after a car manufacturer and a software com- 
pany. You have moved so far into the consumer maze that you can smell 
the cheese. 

After graduating you begin to make a little money, and it's quite 
seductive. The more you have, the more you think about it. 

You buy a house with three bathrooms. You park your BMW out- 
side the double garage. When you grow depressed you go shopping. 

The cult rituals spread themselves evenly over the calendar: Christ- 
mas, Super Bowl, Easter, pay-per-view boxing match, summer 
Olympics, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween. Each 
has its own imperatives — stuff you have to buy, things you have to do. 

You're a lifer now. You're locked and loaded. On the go, trying to 
generate more income to buy more things and then, feeling dissatisfied 
but not quite sure why, setting your sights on even greater income and 

The Cult You're In 57 

more acquisitions. When "consumer confidence is down," spending is 
"stagnant," the "retail sector" is "hurting" and "stingy consumers are 
giving stores the blues," you do your bit for the economy. You are a star. 

Always, always you have been free to dream. The motivational 
speakers you watched on late-night TV preached that even the most 
sorry schleppers can achieve their goals if they visualize daily and stay 
committed. Think and grow rich. 

Dreams, by definition, are supposed to be unique and imaginative. 
Yet the bulk of the population is dreaming the same dream. It's a dream 
of wealth, power, fame, plenty of sex and exciting recreational opportu- 

What does it mean when a whole culture dreams the same dream? 




The past always looks better through the lens of nostalgia. It's human 
nature to exaggerate how good things once were, how happy everyone 
was. But in postwar America, things really were pretty good. And despite 
everything we've learned about that era since, people really were fairly 
happy. A prosperous consumer culture had developed. We bought what 
we needed, with cash. We tucked away 10 percent of what we earned. We 
amused ourselves. We read. In summers Mom and Dad took the clan 
camping on the dunes. This was the American dream: a sprinkler on 
every lawn, a car in every driveway, a chicken in every pot. 

But somewhere along the line, the dream soured. The messages we 
received grew darker and came faster. The television stayed on all day 
and the kids logged astonishing hours in front of it. Companies 
merged and began laying people off. Personal debt grew. People gob- 
bled takeout and started getting fat. Malls, not churches, teemed with 
families on Sunday mornings. A few critics sounded the alarm that an 
unencumbered lifestyle of acquisition and consumption would exact its 
price in the end, but the critics were seen as do-gooders, party poopers, 
intellectual weenies. Enemies of the American Way. 

60 Culture Jam 

Now, at the dawn of the third millennium, those early warnings 
look prophetic. Something has gone terribly wrong. On the surface, life 
in America is much more stimulating than it was in the '50s. But people 
are oddly dysphoric. Restless. Unfulfilled. Deadened. Something has 
happened to us. Something has been taken from us. Our world seems 
an almost cartoonish distortion of the world we once knew. The family 
car can't get onto the turnpike for gridlock. The grass is a green not 
found in nature. Uncle Walter is on a cocktail of pills. Aunt Nellie, 
aluminum-pot cooking queen, can't remember where she lives. Mom's 
on Prozac. Mary- Lou's bulimic. Last we heard of Dad he was running a 
pyramid scheme in Phoenix. 

Even in "good" neighborhoods — wealthy neighborhoods, gated 
neighborhoods, your neighborhood — women don't jog alone after 
dusk. News agencies report that crime rates are falling, but no one feels 
safer than they did five years ago. In the inner cities, pensioners double- 
bolt the doors in fear of home invasions, and a trip to the grocery store 
seems as menacing as a night in the jungle. In some buildings people 
talk to the other tenants, but mostly they don't, because why get 
involved?. Every loner arouses suspicions — was that a power saw you 
heard in the upstairs apartment? — and there are more loners. The trust 
that once forged community is almost gone. Who ripped the radio out 
of your car while you slept last night? Your neighbors shrug; they didn't 
see or hear a thing. You install The Club and an alarm. Someone 
smashes the windshield anyway — a political statement, or maybe not. 
You eventually buy a cheaper car and leave it unlocked. Some mornings 
you find a street person sleeping in it. On those days you take the bus. 

Before leaving for work, sunbelt urbanites tune in to the air-quality 
report. During inversions, when the smog is trapped over the city, the 
asthmatic are advised not to venture outside. Bike couriers wear nose- 
and-mouth masks that make them look vaguely menacing, like Imper- 
ial Stormtroopers. The tapwater is rust colored and it smells and tastes, 
well, industrial. The city says the trace metals are within acceptable lim- 
its, but sales of bottled water rise as people play it safe. Then a whole 
family in California dies from designer water that's been spiked with 

The End of the American Dream 61 
benzene as a prank. In country after country, studies reveal that men's 
sperm counts are falling. Nobody quite knows why. 

A friend recently recounted a great urban legend. It was about a 
grand country wedding on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It 
had been an affair to remember, the union of two well-off and respected 
families. The reception was held in one of the locals' big, grassy back- 
yards. There was a band, and one by one everyone got up to dance. It 
turned out that septic pipes ran under that lawn. The weight of dozens 
of guests bearing down was too much for the system, and the pipes 
burst. Raw sewage rose up through the grass. It began to cover every- 
one's shoes. If anybody noticed, they didn't say anything. The cham- 
pagne flowed, the music continued. Until finally a little boy said, "It 
smells like shit!" And suddenly everyone realized they were ankle-deep 
in it. 

I think of this story every time I try to explain the creeping dys- 
function of North American life. It has happened so gradually that 
hardly anyone has noticed. Those who have clued in apparently figure 
it's best to ignore the shit and just keep dancing. 

In 1945, America was one of history's great liberators. I was a kid in 
Lubeck, Germany, when the GIs marched in. I still vividly remember 
their "aw shucks" smiles and the magical way they pulled chewing gum 
and Hershey bars from their pockets and handed them out to all us 
kids. My father hailed them as the saviors of the world. Now, fifty years 
later, America, the great liberator, is in desperate need of being liberated 
from itself — from its own excesses and arrogance. And the world needs 
to be liberated from American values and culture, spreading across the 
planet as if by divine providence. 

Yet the American dream is so seductive that most of us willingly 
keep on dreaming. We continue to drive our cars to the supermarket 
each week and idly wander the aisles, continue blithely to throw out our 
weight in trash every few weeks, continue to assume that the additives 
in our food are harmless shelf-life extenders, continue to play Visa 
against MasterCard, continue to buy sneakers made in offshore sweat- 
shops, and continue to sit sphinxlike in front of the tube most nights 

A 24 Hour Moratorium on Consumer Spending 

Nov, 26,1999 

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eyes to Hit way we Alt Liw. 

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The End of the American Dream 63 

absorbing another dose of consumer-culture spectacle. The images 
beckon us to a future in which maximum pleasure and minimum pain 
are not only possible but inevitable. We yearn to realize the dream more 
fully. We work and strive for the promised payoff. We try to catch the 
river in a bucket. But we never will. 

We have become what French sociologist Henri Lefebvre called "a 
bureaucratic society of controlled consumption." Our culture has 
evolved into a consumer culture and we from citizens to consumers. 
Gratitude for what we have has been replaced by a sharpening hunger 
for what we don't have. "How much is enough?" has been replaced by 
"How much is possible?" 

It has not been pretty to watch. 

Over a twenty-year period, Elvis Presley evolved from the avatar of 
American cool to the embodiment of American excess. Almost entirely 
confined to bed in his last months, Elvis devoured pills and fried- 
banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches, suppressing the pain of being 
Elvis and seemingly trying to lose himself inside his own expanding 
girth. He was found, appropriately, dead on the throne, head down, like 
an offensive lineman waiting for the snap. Three points of contact: his 
fat hands on the tile and his ass on the porcelain. 

There is no better metaphor for the old American dream. With a 
few exceptions, we are all Elvis now. We have learned what it means to 
live full-on, to fly and fornicate like an American, and now we refuse to 
let that lifestyle go. So we keep consuming. Our bodies, minds, families, 
communities, the environment — all are consumed. 


The history of America is the one story every kid knows. It's a story 
of fierce individualism and heroic personal sacrifice in the service of 
a dream. A story of early settlers, hungry and cold, carving a home 
out of the wilderness. Of visionary leaders fighting for democracy 
and justice, and never wavering. Of a populace prepared to defend 
those ideals to the death. It's the story of a revolution (an American 
art form as endemic as baseball or jazz) beating back British imperi- 
alism and launching a new colony into the industrial age on its own 

It's a story of America triumphant. A story of its rise after World 
War II to become the richest and most powerful country in the history 
of the world, "the land of the free and home of the brave," an inspiring 
model for the whole world to emulate. 

That's the official history, the one that is taught in school and the 
one our media and culture reinforce in myriad ways every day. 

The unofficial history of the United States is quite different. It 
begins the same way — in the revolutionary cauldron of colonial Amer- 
ica — but then it takes a turn. A bit player in the official history becomes 

66 Culture Jam 

critically important to the way the unofficial history unfolds. This 
player turns out to be not only the provocateur of the revolution, but in 
the end its saboteur. This player lies at the heart of America's defining 
theme: the difference between a country that pretends to be free and a 
country that truly is free. 

That player is the corporation. 

The United States of America was born of a revolt not just against 
British monarchs and the British parliament but against British corpo- 

We tend to think of corporations as fairly recent phenomena, the 
legacy of the Rockefellers and Carnegies. In fact, the corporate pres- 
ence in prerevolutionary America was almost as conspicuous as it is 
today. There were far fewer corporations then, but they were enor- 
mously powerful: the Massachusetts Bay Company, the Hudson's Bay 
Company, the British East India Company. Colonials feared these char- 
tered entities. They recognized the way British kings and their cronies 
used them as robotic arms to control the affairs of the colonies, to 
pinch staples from remote breadbaskets and bring them home to the 

The colonials resisted. When the British East India Company 
imposed duties on its incoming tea (telling the locals they could buy the 
tea or lump it, because the company had a virtual monopoly on tea dis- 
tribution in the colonies), radical patriots demonstrated. Colonial mer- 
chants agreed not to sell East India Company tea. Many East India 
Company ships were turned back at port. And, on one fateful day in 
Boston, 342 chests of tea ended up in the salt chuck. 

The Boston Tea Party was one of young America's finest hours. It 
sparked enormous revolutionary excitement. The people were begin- 
ning to understand their own strength, and to see their own self- 
determination not just as possible but inevitable. 

The Declaration of Independence, in 1776, freed Americans not 
only from Britain but also from the tyranny of British corporations, 
and for a hundred years after the document's signing, Americans 
remained deeply suspicious of corporate power. They were careful 

The Unofficial History of America™ 47 

about the way they granted corporate charters, and about the powers 
granted therein. 

Early American charters were created literally by the people, for 
the people as a legal convenience. Corporations were "artificial, invisi- 
ble, intangible," mere financial tools. They were chartered by individ- 
ual states, not the federal government, which meant they could be 
kept under close local scrutiny. They were automatically dissolved if 
they engaged in activities that violated their charter. Limits were 
placed on how big and powerful companies could become. Even rail- 
road magnate J. P. Morgan, the consummate capitalist, understood 
that corporations must never become so big that they "inhibit free- 
dom to the point where efficiency [is] endangered." 

The two hundred or so corporations that were operating in the 
U.S. by the year 1800 were each kept on a fairly short leash. They 
weren't allowed to participate in the political process. They couldn't 
buy stock in other corporations. And if one of them acted improperly, 
the consequences were severe. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson 
vetoed a motion to extend the charter of the corrupt and tyrannical 
Second Bank of the United States, and was widely applauded for doing 
so. That same year the state of Pennsylvania revoked the charters of 
ten banks for operating contrary to the public interest. Even the enor- 
mous industry trusts, formed to protect member corporations from 
external competitors and provide barriers to entry, eventually proved 
no match for the state. By the mid- 1800s, antitrust legislation was 
widely in place. 

In the early history of America, the corporation played an impor- 
tant but subordinate role. The people — not the corporations — were 
in control. So what happened? How did corporations gain power and 
eventually start exercising more control than the individuals who cre- 
ated them? 

The shift began in the last third of the nineteenth century — the 
start of a great period of struggle between corporations and civil soci- 
ety. The turning point was the Civil War. Corporations made huge 
profits from procurement contracts and took advantage of the disor- 

68 Culture Jam 

der and corruption of the times to buy legislatures, judges and even 
presidents. Corporations became the masters and keepers of business. 
President Abraham Lincoln foresaw terrible trouble. Shortly before 
his death, he warned, "Corporations have been enthroned. ... An era 
of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will 
endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the peo- 
ple .. . until wealth is aggregated in a few hands . . . and the republic is 

President Lincoln's warning went unheeded. Corporations con- 
tinued to gain power and influence. They had the laws governing their 
creation amended. State charters could no longer be revoked. Corpo- 
rate profits could no longer be limited. Corporate economic activity 
could be restrained only by the courts, and in hundreds of cases 
judges granted corporations minor legal victories, conceding rights 
and privileges they did not have before. 

Then came a legal event that would not be understood for 
decades (and remains baffling even today), an event that would 
change the course of American history. In Santa Clara County v. 
Southern Pacific Railroad, a dispute over a railbed route, the U.S. 
Supreme Court deemed that a private corporation was a "natural per- 
son" under the U.S. Constitution and therefore entitled to protection 
under the Bill of Rights. Suddenly, corporations enjoyed all the rights 
and sovereignty previously enjoyed only by the people, including the 
right to free speech. 

This 1886 decision ostensibly gave corporations the same powers 
as private citizens. But considering their vast financial resources, cor- 
porations thereafter actually had far more power than any private cit- 
izen. They could defend and exploit their rights and freedoms more 
vigorously than any individual and therefore they were more free. In a 
single legal stroke, the whole intent of the American Constitution — 
that all citizens have one vote, and exercise an equal voice in public 
debates — had been undermined. Sixty years after it was inked, 
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas concluded of Santa Clara 
that it "could not be supported by history, logic or reason." One of the 

The Unofficial History of America™ 69 
great legal blunders of the nineteenth century changed the whole idea 
of democratic government. 

Post- Santa Clara America became a very different place. By 1919, 
corporations employed more than 80 percent of the workforce and 
produced most of America's wealth. Corporate trusts had become too 
powerful to legally challenge. The courts consistently favored their 
interests. Employees found themselves without recourse if, for exam- 
ple, they were injured on the job (if you worked for a corporation, you 
voluntarily assumed the risk, was the courts' position). Railroad and 
mining companies were enabled to annex vast tracts of land at mini- 
mal expense. 

Gradually, many of the original ideals of the American Revolu- 
tion were simply quashed. Both during and after the Civil War, Amer- 
ica was increasingly being ruled by a coalition of government and 
business interests. The shift amounted to a kind of coup d'etat — not a 
sudden military takeover but a gradual subversion and takeover of the 
institutions of state power. Except for a temporary setback during 
Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal (the 1930s), the U.S. has since been 
governed as a corporate state. 

In the post-World War II era, corporations continued to gain 
power. They merged, consolidated, restructured and metamorphosed 
into ever larger and more complex units of resource extraction, pro- 
duction, distribution and marketing, to the point where many of 
them became economically more powerful than many countries. In 
1997, fifty-one of the world's hundred largest economies were corpo- 
rations, not countries. The top five hundred corporations controlled 
42 percent of the world's wealth. Today, corporations freely buy each 
other's stocks and shares. They lobby legislators and bankroll elec- 
tions. They manage our broadcast airwaves, set our industrial, eco- 
nomic and cultural agendas, and grow as big and powerful as they 
damn well please. 

Every day, scenes that would have seemed surreal, impossible, 
undemocratic twenty years ago play out with nary a squeak of dissent 
from a stunned and inured populace. 

70 Culture Jam 

At Morain Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois, a 
student named Jennifer Beatty stages a protest against corporate 
sponsorship in her school by locking herself to the metal mesh cur- 
tains of the multimillion-dollar "McDonald's Student Center" that 
serves as the physical and nutritional focal point of her college. She is 
arrested and expelled. 

At Greenbrier High School in Evans, Georgia, a student named 
Mike Cameron wears a Pepsi T-shirt on the day — dubbed "Coke 
Day" — when corporate flacks from Coca-Cola jet in from Atlanta to 
visit the school their company has sponsored and subsidized. Mike 
Cameron is suspended for his insolence. 

In suburban shopping malls across North America, moms and 
dads push shopping carts down the aisle of Toys "R" Us. Trailing them 
and imitating their gestures, their kids push pint-size carts of their 
own. The carts say, "Toys 'R' Us Shopper in Training." 

In St. Louis, Missouri, chemical giant Monsanto sics its legal team 
on anyone even considering spreading dirty lies — or dirty truths — 
about the company. A Fox TV affiliate that has prepared a major 
investigative story on the use and misuse of synthetic bovine growth 
hormone (a Monsanto product) pulls the piece after Monsanto attor- 
neys threaten the network with "dire consequences" if the story airs. 
Later, a planned book on the dangers of genetic agricultural technolo- 
gies is temporarily shelved after the publisher, fearing a lawsuit from 
Monsanto, gets cold feet. 

In boardrooms in all the major global capitals, CEOs of the 
world's biggest corporations imagine a world where they are protected 
by what is effectively their own global charter of rights and free- 
doms — the Multinational Agreement on Investment (MAI). They are 
supported in this vision by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the 
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Interna- 
tional Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the European Round Table of 
Industrialists (ERT), the Organization for Economic Co-operation 
and Development (OECD) and other organizations representing 
twenty-nine of the world's richest economies. The MAI would effec- 

The Unofficial History of America™ 71 

tively create a single global economy allowing corporations the unre- 
stricted right to buy, sell and move their businesses, resources and 
other assets wherever and whenever they want. It's a corporate bill of 
rights designed to override all "nonconforming" local, state and 
national laws and regulations and allow them to sue cities, states and 
national governments for alleged noncompliance. Sold to the world's 
citizens as inevitable and necessary in an age of free trade, those MAI 
negotiations met with considerable grassroots opposition and were 
temporarily suspended in April 1998. Nevertheless, no one believes 
this initiative will remain suspended for long. 

We, the people, have lost control. Corporations, these legal fic- 
tions that we ourselves created two centuries ago, now have more 
rights, freedoms and powers than we do. And we accept this as the 
normal state of affairs. We go to corporations on our knees. Please do 
the right thing, we plead. Please don't cut down any more ancient 
forests. Please don't pollute any more lakes and rivers (but please don't 
move your factories and jobs offshore either). Please don't use porno- 
graphic images to sell fashion to my kids. Please don't play govern- 
ments off against each other to get a better deal. We've spent so much 
time bowed down in deference, we've forgotten how to stand up 

The unofficial history of America™, which continues to be writ- 
ten, is not a story of rugged individualism and heroic personal sacri- 
fice in the pursuit of a dream. It is a story of democracy derailed, of a 
revolutionary spirit suppressed, and of a once-proud people reduced 
to servitude. 


Meet Janet, high school valedictorian, devoted daughter, middle- 
distance track star. The almost perfect kid. But Janet has a secret ritual 
and she'd like to keep it that way. After meals, she routinely excuses her- 
self to the bathroom and shoves two fingers down her throat. A couple 
of her friends have divined her eating disorder from the clues: She's 
reed-thin and has a chronic cough. She's on the StairMaster at the Y for 
an hour a day and two hours on weekends. She's constantly popping 
breath mints. The stomach acid she brings up is dissolving the enamel 
on her teeth, which are unnaturally white. The skin on her face seems 
opalescent, and her eyes shine. She's dying. 

Meet Matt and Sarah, already dubbed the perfect couple though 
they've only known each other three months. Sarah is one of those peo- 
ple who are always getting asked to be a bridesmaid. She's smart, funny, 
spunky and kind. Mart's family adores her. His friends sometimes call 
her up just to talk. When's the wedding? 

As it turns out, never. Matt has just broken things off. He had to be 
honest: She was just not cute enough. Whatever sexual spark might have 
been there on day one — the novelty of a new scent, a new body to 

74 Culture Jam 

explore — is gone. He wishes it hadn't happened. He wishes she still 
turned him on. But she doesn't. 

Sarah is not unattractive, but she's not exactly Elle McPherson 
either. Ten years of conditioning — slavering over his dad's old Playboys, 
collecting Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions and trolling the porn sites 
on the Internet — have taught him, at an almost cellular level, that Elle 
McPherson and her ilk are what desirable women look like. Those little 
parabolas where the hips flare from a twenty-five-inch waist. The 
gravity-free breasts. When Matt and Sarah made love, he could only get 
aroused if he imagined she was Elle, all hair and tan and Australian 
accent. In time, his imagination failed him. He drew back. "Houston," 
he actually said to himself one night, watching her breathe in her sleep, 
"we have a problem." 

Meet Randy, bartender and gym rat. At around age nineteen, 
Randy acquired a suit of armor. It is his own musculature. At work, in 
a tight white Hugo Boss T-shirt, he looks merely fit. But when he's 
pumped — which is about three hours out of every day — he swells to 
almost comic-book proportions. The veins on his arms stand out like 
rivers. His workout buddies call him "The Big Unit," after Astros closer 
Randy Johnson. Size matters, but size has proved relative. He has found 
that building the perfect body is a little like building the perfect stereo 
system: When you improve one component, everything else becomes 
underpowered by comparison and must therefore be upgraded. The 
pecs, the delts, the glutes. Check the mirror for symmetry and shape. 
Thus is born obsession. Occasional steroid use has shrunk Randy's 
balls and scarred his face with acne. 

Their lives and circumstances are very different, but Janet, Matt, 
Sarah and Randy all have this in common: They're meat on the killing 
floor of the body- image factory. The way they think about themselves as 
physical beings has become grossly distorted. They've lost control of 
their sexuality. They are no longer making the decisions about how they 
should look, what they should feel, or what constitutes a successful rela- 

Then who is? There's no single, simple answer to that, but I think 

Your Corporate Connection 75 

it's fair to say a vast network of opinion-shapers is involved. It's not a 
conspiracy, exactly. The controlling elite are simply people with power- 
ful media access who are all pushing in the same direction. These people 
work on Madison Avenue and Savile Row, in Hollywood and Paris and 
Milan. One way or another, their checks are cut by the beauty industry, 
which has persuaded us that if we are thin and toned and well tailored, 
we will be loved. They have manipulated us badly. 

And they have done it subtly, feeding our insecurities a little at a 

Fact: Nine out of ten North American women feel bad about some 
aspect of their bodies, and men are not far behind. A 1992 survey of 
eleven- to fifteen-year-old Canadian girls revealed that 50 percent 
thought they should be thinner. They didn't wish they were thinner, 
they thought they should be thinner, as if being thin were a kind of cul- 
tural law. Now girls as young as five are watching what they eat. If you 
randomly survey North American women, you'll find that around 50 
percent of them are on a diet. If you ask adolescent girls and young 
women, you'll find that figure around 60 percent. Healthy women are 
sometimes led by women's magazines or unscrupulous cosmetic sur- 
geons to believe they suffer from such "afflictions" as "violin deformity" 
(a flaring of the hips, which is in fact many women's natural body 
shape) or "batwing disorder" (loose skin under the arms, which is quite 
normal) — and feel compelled to go under the knife to remedy them. 
Some models have removed their bottom ribs to accentuate the thin- 
ness of their waists. 

But all this media-fed body consciousness is not just about being 


Fact: Half of all exotic dancers were once beauty-pageant contes- 
tants. That's a surprising statistic when you first hear it. It's hard to 
bridge the distance between the wholesome, naive, small-town Caval- 
cade Queen who plays "The Volga Boatman" on the accordion and 
wants to be a vet, to the hardened stripper with seen-it-all eyes grind- 
ing in red light on the stage of Number Five Orange. However, the 
more you think about it, the more sense it makes. From the instant the 

76 Culture Jam 

twelve-year-old pageant contestant (and some pageant queens are 
groomed much younger than this, as JonBenet Ramsey proved) steps 
in front of a crowd, a kind of tractor beam takes hold of her. She feels 
the electricity of what anthropologists sometimes call "the male gaze." 
She understands that the sum of her worth, at that moment, to these 
people, lies in the image she presents. The men study her lipstick, com- 
plexion, hair, legs and budding breasts. She becomes acutely self- 
conscious. She's either seduced by or a little terrified of the attention. 
Or both. Appearance has never been more important and within her 
latent sexuality (or at least her cultivated seductiveness) lies incredible 
power — power that, ten years later, she may discover can be parlayed 
into a pretty fair living on a peeler-bar stage. For maybe five or ten 
years. For as powerful as the male gaze is, it's also fickle. When it shuts 
down, the heat leaves the room pretty quickly. 

This isn't a terribly original point to make. But I think the fact that 
it's now almost a cliche — objectification distorts a person's sense of 
worth — is a dangerous development. We think we understand the para- 
digm, but I don't believe we do. I don't think many of us have really let 
its seriousness, its implications sink in. We don't understand what's at 

What does it mean that so many of us are willing to give up so 
much of our power, voluntarily, systematically, to strangers? What does 
it mean that we're willing to barter the most private parts of ourselves — 
our way of thinking about ourselves, our way of being in the world — for 
a brief buzz of attention? 

I don't think we have a clear idea of what's going on. Maybe we 
don't want to know. Perpetually children at some level, we give our- 
selves up to the reassuringly strong hands of Calvin Klein and Estee 
Lauder and Donna Karan. We follow their lead. We let them seduce us 
and possess us, and from our relationship with them we derive a certain 
sense of security, the way prostitutes derive a sense of security from 
their pimps. This becomes the implicit contract: You work for me (i.e., 
you wear my clothes and makeup) and I will guard your place in the social 
hierarchy. I will protect your turf. Without me, you know you would not 

78 Culture Jam 

feel safe going out. I ensure that you are not hurt out there, and for that you 
owe me. For me you will try harder, you will look your best; no matter how 
weak you feel, how broken, you will keep going out there each day because 
you know that only I can give you the fix you need. 

To a large extent, out there in the social world, we find that the 
beauty industry has engineered our concept of what a good relationship 
and good sex are all about. It has reinforced a rather odd way of keeping 
our insecurities in check. 

"You can always tell a couple who are on a first date," says a friend 
who worked as a waitress in a dessert cafe in Vancouver. "She's not eat- 
ing. He's got a big slab of cake but she's not eating. Just to be social she 
might nibble a bite or two from his plate, with her own fork, but she 
won't order her own dessert. It's not so much that she's worried about 
looking like a pig if she eats. It's that eating anything makes her feel like 
a pig. And when a girl starts feeling like a pig it's very easy to convince 
herself that she is. She's a pig. No one — not this guy, not any guy — will 
ever find her attractive ever again." 

A day in your life. 

8 A.M.: You are biting into a hash brown patty at McDonald's. The 
grease shines on your chin like baby oil. You are reminded of your child- 

What you don't know: One out of every four restaurant-prepared 
breakfasts in the U.S. is eaten at McDonald's. Every three hours a new 
McDonald's opens somewhere in the world. The company spends over 
$1 billion every year on advertising. 

9:30 A.M.: You are pushing a cart down the aisle of your neighbor- 
hood supermarket, past little pyramids of shiny apples and peppers. You 
buy Brussels sprouts as well as cocoa, sugar, coffee and bananas. You 
marvel at a food system that can deliver asparagus in February. You toss 
a nice ripe, red tomato into the basket. 

What you don't know: These vegetables were pumped full of chem- 
icals to enable them to grow in poor soil and survive the voyage to mar- 
ket. The apples and peppers shine because of thick, petroleum-based 

Your Corporate Connection 79 

waxes. The nice ripe, red tomato, a "Flavr Savr," is genetically speaking 
part flounder. (The technology for this process is owned by chemical 
giant Monsanto.) A UCLA study of supermarket Brussels sprouts found 
almost no trace of vitamins in them. "Cash crops" like cocoa, sugar, cof- 
fee and bananas — generally grown to supply the First World — pull 
more and more land away from traditional food crops and fail to pro- 
tect the soil, often leading to famine. The food you eat comes from 
wherever it can be grown most cheaply. 

6:00 p.m.: The frozen dinner you're about to heat up in the 
microwave looks virtually the same as the meal you had on the airplane 
last night. 

What you don't know: Boeing, which built that airplane you flew on 
last night, had to widen its seats in the 1970s because its passengers had 
grown too fat to fit them. Airline-style food is a good example of the 
kind of food Americans favor: processed, convenient, leached of nutri- 
ents but high in fat. The United States is the fattest nation on Earth and 
getting fatter. Americans consume more calories per capita, more 
snacks between meals and more sugar-rich sodas than anyone else. Fat 
makes up almost 40 percent of all the calories we consume. 

9:00 p.m. Evening snack of diet Coke (you're watching calories). 

What you don't know: Flight attendants sometimes use diet Coke to 
unclog sinks in commercial jets. 

Eating is a complex act. It's loaded with moral, psychological, 
social and sexual freight. To say food is simply fuel is like saying mar- 
riage is simply a rent-sharing agreement. Food is sin. It's guilt. It's joy. 
We overeat, then we undereat. 

We want to listen to our bodies, but Frito-Lay has jammed our 
feedback mechanisms. We want to eat a naturally healthy diet, but the 
world's largest suppliers of processed foods have taught us to trust con- 
venience, comfort and the taste of sugar, fat and salt. We've lost the 
sacred joy of the feast. 

In the movie Babette's Feast, a French housekeeper uses her lottery 
winnings to prepare one amazing meal for the puritanical residents of a 
Norwegian island. For them, the meal is excessively, almost porno- 

80 Culture Jam 

graphically, sensuous. They have become so accustomed to not deriving 
pleasure from their meals that they cannot accept this gift from Babette. 
Many of us raised on processed-food diets are like those islanders. Real, 
flavorful, sensuous food is so foreign to us we don't know how to 
respond to it anymore. We've lost our ability to appreciate it. We'd just 
as soon eat something packaged. 

Gone the evening meal, once a joyous ritual of family life. Gone the 
prayerful acknowledgment of the harvest. Gone the connection between 
the actual growing of food and its consumption. 

Losing this connection is a little like losing a great old friend. The 
old friend played many roles and enriched our life in many unexpected 
ways. But over time she grew distant. We allowed outside parties — 
processors, shippers, factory farmers, supermarketers, junk food mer- 
chants — to come between us. By buying into an industrialized food 
system, we have, as it were, traded in our great old friend for new 
friends: food brands and corporate buddies. 

These new friends are very attentive. McDonald's is never more 
than about fifteen minutes away. A chocolate fix is as close as the near- 
est 7-Eleven. The local supermarket now does much of the cooking for 
us. Monsanto has taken on the job of planning our biotech future. 

More and more, our relationship with the industrial food industry 
begins to resemble the one it has with its chickens, pigs and cows. In 
exchange for zero responsibility, we get zero control. Soon freedom is just 
a vestigial memory. We cannot imagine ever having lived differently. 

"It's the most bizarre thing," a journalist friend said one recent Monday. 
Her nose and cheeks were flushed. She looked younger somehow. She 
seemed scattered, blissed out. She'd clearly spent a scandalous weekend. 
Was it love? 

Yes, she admitted, it was. 

"I'm in love with my car." 

A week earlier she'd bought a new Jeep, and she'd spent the 
last couple of days roaring around with the top down, getting a 

Your Corporate Connection 81 

The impression was that of a woman who suddenly discovers, after 
twenty years of driving a VW van, that life is not about practicality — it's 
about fun. She grinned for no reason, thinking of that car, remembering 
the way it smelled and handled corners, remembering it was hers. She 
was looking forward to bonding with new members of the four-by-four 
tribe: swapping waxing tips and exchanging two-finger waves at stop- 
lights. On special occasions, or as a reward for a good report card, she'd 
let her daughter drive it to school. She was an "it" mom now and she 
knew it. She felt it. 

I understood. People have intense, sometimes obsessive relation- 
ships with their cars. If you own one, think about how much time you 
spend nurturing the bond. Think of all the hours you spend cleaning it, 
changing its oil, hunting it down in parking lots, waiting for it at the 
mechanic's and renewing its insurance. (Not to mention the hours you 
spend alone together on the road.) 

In the movie Swingers, any guy with an uncool car — or worse, no 
car at all — is immediately "Shaqed" (rejected) by any woman he meets. 
Cars are identifiers. They complete us, they renew us, they reinvent us. 
Which explains why so many of us dutifully walk into a car showroom 
every few years for a rejuvenating boost. 

Cars are about time — about creating more of it. Instant mobility! 
(Of course, when you stop to do the math you realize that's not quite 
true. In most medium-size cities you can get to most places faster by 
bicycle than by car.) 

Cars are about speed — the illusion of pulling astronaut-caliber Gs, 
even if you're just cornering a little too quickly on the way to the laun- 

They're about trust — that moment when Dad silently hands over 
the keys, for the first time, to his eighteen-year-old son. (Have a good 
time. Please don't wrap yourself around a telephone pole.) 

I run around in a 1987 Toyota. The last time I changed the oil I 
noticed that the bolt holding the oil pan on was stripped and oil was 
leaking out. I went to my authorized Toyota dealer and had to cough up 
$7 for that little bolt. The guy behind the counter openly admitted it 

82 Culture Jam 

was a rip-off. "But where else are you gonna go?" He laughed. That kind 
of gouging, which over the years has become normal practice through- 
out the auto industry, long ago soured my relationship with the 

I don't like the planned obsolescence, which has also become nor- 
mal practice. Cars aren't like computers: They don't become grossly 
underequipped for the job every few years. Yet the models change dra- 
matically year after year. Around year two or three, little things start to 
break down or wear out, and somehow we become convinced that 
trading in the old bomb for a brand-new model is the smart thing 
to do. 

I don't like the way cars, over the last half century, have eroded our 
sense of village and the vitality of our neighborhoods. "Once trucks can 
move produce into your area 24 hours a day, local produce markets dis- 
appear," notes Jane Holtz Kay in Asphalt Nation. "Once ambulances can 
get to your place on the freeway, doctors stop making housecalls. The 
arteries may be alive, but the beating heart of community is hard to 

I don't like the way the global automakers, with their billion-dollar 
marketing budgets and their unchallenged fifty-year run on television, 
have kept the personal automobile — arguably the most destructive 
product we humans have ever produced — at the center of our trans- 
portation agendas for so long. 

I don't like the fact that the price of cars does not tell the ecological 
truth and that the environmental costs of driving are blithely passed on 
to future generations to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars every 

Most of all I don't like the way the global automakers and oil com- 
panies minimize and sidestep these issues — how, instead of facing the 
problems of global warming and climate change head on, they deliber- 
ately obfuscate with lyrical advertising campaigns that promote the pre- 
posterous idea that their industry is eco-friendly. 

I hate all these things and yet I still drive my Toyota. The love of 
convenience, the time I save, the speed and the power, and the lack of 

Your Corporate Connection 83 

viable alternatives trump my hate more often than not. And so my rela- 
tionship with my Toyota and the auto industry is full of guilt and angst 
and barely repressed anger. It's the same kind of slow burn that busts up 
marriages, twenty-five years down the road, with a violently cathartic 
act involving an ax or an attorney. 


Seven men with genial smiles stand shoulder to shoulder on a broad 
lawn inside a matrix of cordoned-off boulevards. A hundred photogra- 
phers snap their picture. The seven call each other by their first names, 
but just about everyone else calls them "Mister." The police are on high 
alert. The G-7 economic summit is one of the very few occasions where 
the leaders of the most affluent nations are together in one place. If 
aliens were planning an effective tactical strike on Earth, here and now 
would be the best time and place. 

These seven men, here to coordinate their economic, financial 
and trade policies, stand at the helm of the global economy. Between 
them they control more than two thirds of the world's wealth. They 
carry the clout within the World Bank and the International Monetary 
Fund. They wield the power at the World Trade Organization. When 
their finance ministers say "Go" by lowering taxes and interest rates, 
people around the world open their wallets. When they say "Stop" by 
pulling the macroeconomic levers the other way, people grow ner- 
vous. They cut back. Jobs are lost. Lives are put on hold. 

Of course, the global economy is like the gorilla that sits where it 

86 Culture Jam 

wants; the G-7 leaders don't have a firm rein on it. However, through 
their power to direct global economic policies, and through reassuring 
spectacles like the G-7 summit, the leaders create the perception of mas- 
tery. And in politics, perception is everything. The leaders maintain 
their authority because we believe. 

At every summit the focal point of discussion is how to maintain 
economic growth. Growth is the sine qua non of consumer capitalism. 
Without growth the global economy as it is currently structured makes 
no sense. There seem to be no alternatives. But there is an alternative — 
one that has never been discussed at any summit. 

Two Schools of Thought 

The view that in good times or bad, growth will set us free is a classic argu- 
ment coming from economics' so-called expansionist camp. Expansion- 
ism remains the dominant economic paradigm because expansionists 
(sometimes called neoclassical economists) are the dominant economic 
policymakers of our time. They are the professors at our universities, the 
policy advisers to our governments, the brains in most of the think tanks. 
Their confident logic shapes the economic strategies by which we live. 

The competing view of global economic reality — the ecological 
worldview — is the new kid on the block. Its vision is not quite fully 
formed, its logic is a little less confident. Its proponents probably make 
up fewer than one in fifty of all the practicing economists and econom- 
ics professors in the world today. Though rapidly growing in accep- 
tance, ecological economics has so far been little more than a minor 
irritant to its dominant expansionist rival. 

The two worldviews are chalk and cheese. Or, if you like, heaven 
and hell. 

Ecological economists (also known as bioeconomists) foresee an 
apocalypse. They warn that we have reached a unique juncture in 
human history — that, ecologically speaking, the world is already "full" 
and further expansion will lead us into an ecological nightmare, a pro- 
longed and possibly permanent "age of despair." 

The Global Economic Pyramid Scheme 87 

The expansionists, by contrast, see growth not as a problem but as 
the solution to our economic woes. There is no reason why growth can- 
not continue indefinitely, they claim. "There are no . . . limits to the car- 
rying capacity of the Earth that are likely to bind at any time in the 
foreseeable future," pronounced Lawrence Summers, former chief 
economist of the World Bank. "There isn't a risk of an apocalypse due to 
global warming or anything else. The idea that the world is headed over 
an abyss is profoundly wrong. The idea that we should put limits on 
growth because of some natural limit is a profound error." 

This almost unbelievably arrogant view is shared by other expan- 
sionists who put their faith in technology. "If it is easy to substitute 
other factors for natural resources," says Nobel laureate Robert Solow, 
"then . . . the world can, in effect, get along without natural resources, so 
exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe." The late Julian Simon, 
author of Scarcity or Abundance? A Debate on the Environment, once 
boasted: "We have in our hands — in our libraries really — the technol- 
ogy to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population 
for the next seven billion years." 

Within the ecological camp, of course, these are fighting words. 
Worse, they're grievously irresponsible and just plain false. William 
Rees, coauthor of Our Ecological Footprint and a leading spokesman of 
the new economics, warns that the fivefold expansion in world eco- 
nomic activity since World War II (and a twentyfold increase this cen- 
tury) "has produced an unprecedented level of material and energy 
exchange between the ecosphere and the human economic subsystem." 
He points out that 40 percent of terrestrial and 25 percent of marine 
photosynthesis have now been diverted to human use. He sees ozone 
depletion, climate change, deforestation, soil degradation and the loss 
of biodiversity as unambiguous warning signals telling us to stop 
stressing our ecosphere or die. In 1994, fifty-eight World Academy of 
Science directors released a document declaring, essentially, that 
humankind is proceeding down an unprecedented and catastrophic 
path which will destroy the support systems upon which life depends. 
Overpopulation, overconsumption, inappropriate technological appli- 

88 Culture Jam 

cations and economic expansion are changing the biophysical features 
of the Earth. 

Ecological economists accuse expansionists of pawning the family 
silverware — of "liquidating" the planet's irreplaceable natural capital 
for short-term gain. Robert Ayres, in the Journal of the International 
Society for Ecological Economics, writes: "... there is every indication 
that human economic activity, supported by perverse trade and 
growth' policies, is well on the way to perturbing our natural environ- 
ment more, and faster, than any known event in planetary history, save 
perhaps the large asteroid collision that may have killed off the 
dinosaurs. We humans may well be on the way to our own extinction." 

Ecological Economics 

Assume for a moment that our survival is indeed threatened. What do 
we do? How can we address that threat? An obvious answer is to pursue 
sustainability. To design a new economic system that gives us what we 
need without sacrificing the well-being of future generations. For eco- 
logical economists (or bioeconomists), leveling the playing field be- 
tween generations is the big challenge of our time. Nothing else comes 
close. And the solution is nothing short of a cultural revolution — an 
about-face in our values, lifestyles and institutional agendas. A reinven- 
tion of the American dream. 

Expansionists see the pursuit of sustainability as a much simpler 
proposition: Create as much wealth as possible by freeing up markets, 
privatizing government services and eliminating barriers to trade. This 
will, according to their theories, produce a new round of economic 
expansion that will create the wealth we need to tackle environmental 
degradation, poverty and other economic woes. 

But there's a flaw in the expansionists' argument. They have no 
accurate way of measuring the economic progress they keep talking 
about. Their only measure of growth is the Gross Domestic Product 
(GDP), and it is seriously flawed. 

Consider: When the Exxon Valdez spilled its load of oil onto the 

The Global Economic Pyramid Scheme 89 

Alaskan coast, $2 billion was spent trying to clean up and minimize the 
ecological damage. That money then circulated throughout the Ameri- 
can economy, resulting in a significant increase in the GDP. When the 
Gulf War broke out, America's GDP rose again. Money changed hands. 
The country became "healthier." Indeed, every time there's a car acci- 
dent or a newly diagnosed cancer patient, whenever personal or societal 
catastrophes occur, the GDP goes up and the economy "gains." 

Consider: Walking, biking and using mass transit contribute less to 
the GDP than using a car. Trains contribute less than airplanes; an extra 
blanket or sweater contributes less than raising the thermostat; one- 
child families contribute less than six-child families; eating potatoes 
contributes less than eating beef; starting a vegetable garden contributes 
less than buying produce at the supermarket; staying home to raise your 
daughter contributes less than getting a part-time job at Wendy's. 
Indeed, the GDP fails to assign any value at all to unpaid or volunteer 
work. Work done by tens of millions of North Americans simply does 
not show up on the expansionists' radar. Similarly, the GDP fails to 
assign any value to declining fish stocks or disappearing forests. It's as if 
these negatives simply don't exist. 

The GDP measures "goods" but not "bads." It cannot distinguish 
economic benefit for social gain from economic benefit for social loss. 
Conducting economic policy based solely on the GDP, says Canadian 
political scientist Ronald Coleman, is like driving your car without a gas 
gauge. The engine seems to be running fine, but for how long? There's 
no way to know. 

That's why ecological economists have spurned the GDP and 
developed their own measures of economic progress. The three graphs 
on page 91 show the GDPs of the U.S., U.K. and Germany all soaring 
merrily upward from 1955 through the 1980s. However, a more accu- 
rate measure of economic progress, the ISEW (Index of Sustainable 
Economic Welfare), developed by Herman Daly and John Cobb in 
1990, tells another story. When some of the "bads," such as pollution, 
depletion of nonrenewable resources and car exhaust-related health 
costs, are factored in, a very different picture of the economy emerges. 

90 Culture Jam 

The U.S., German and U.K. economies all show no improvement in 
economic welfare since the 1970s. In fact, economic welfare levels off 
and starts falling quite dramatically in each country. 

The ISEW (as well as the GPI, or Genuine Progress Indicator, pio- 
neered by the San Francisco think tank Redefining Progress) exposes 
the expansionists as a bunch of eager beavers without a well-considered 
business plan, pseudoscientists urging the world to follow their lead 
before they themselves have clear bearings. Neoclassical economists 
cling to their mathematical models like children to their teddy bears. 
They operate in a kind of academic isolation that does not acknowledge 
the effects of their policies on the real world. Their world is the world of 
"revealed preferences" and "rational expectations," of "perfectly volun- 
tary exchange" and "negative externalities" that can be dismissed. Their 
world is not our world. Their world does not exist. 

"The difference between science and economics," says Ferdinand 
Banks in Truth and Economics, "is that science aims at an understanding 
of the behavior of nature, while economics is involved with an under- 
standing of models — and many of these models have no relation to any 
state of nature that has ever existed on this planet, or any that is likely to 
exist between now and doomsday. The word that comes to mind when 
confronted by these fantasies is fraud." 

The Doomsday Machine 

In 1996, news stories of a bizarre and tragic wholesale fraud began fil- 
tering out of Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Serbia and 
Albania, citizens who had sunk their savings into investment schemes 
that promised money for nothing got a glimpse of the dark side of the 
free market. In Albania close to 90 percent of the dirt-poor population 
had put some or all of its money in "foundations," which were actually 
simple pyramid schemes. No one knew what they were investing in, 
exactly, but the pitches were electrifying, the promised returns too 
enticing to resist: cars, tropical vacations, triple your money in three 
months, a new and better life for everyone. The people believed. And 

Source: Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr.. 
For The Common Good. Beacon Press. 1990. 

lhd "TD m IB "BO l*» IfW IHfl 'W im JMS 

Source: N*w Economics Foundation, Tim Jackson 
and Nic Marks. 

Sowce: Frier, da of die Eanh. U.K. 

Two different ways of measuring 
economic progress: Gross Domestic 
Product (GDP) and the Index of Sustain- 
able Economic Welfare (ISEW). When 
pollution, depletion of nonrenewable 
resources, car exhaust-related health 
costs and other social and ecological 
costs are subtracted from the GDP, then 
economic "progress™ levels off around 
1975 and starts falling thereafter. 

92 Culture Jam 

why not? "Albanian money is the cleanest in the world," reassured Pres- 
ident Sali Berisha. If the government endorsed these schemes, surely 
they were legitimate. Many Albanians took the plunge. They bet the 
family fruit stands, sold their homes and their livestock. In Albania, as 
elsewhere in post-Communist Europe, new investors eventually dried 
up and the funds began failing. Finally, the house of cards came down. 
People rioted. They had nothing left. Albanians collectively lost a billion 
dollars — three times the national budget deficit. They had trusted their 
government and they had been betrayed. 

The response in the West was predictable. Bemused pity might best 
sum it up. We shook our heads at those poor benighted bastards who 
had been persuaded to "bet on miracles." 

But how different is our economic fable? Don't we trust our finan- 
cial advisers, our expansionist economists, our political leaders as 
blindly as Albanians trusted theirs? Most of us have no idea where our 
money is. It's not in the bank where we left it. The bank injected it into 
the bloodstream of the global money market. Vast sums move through 
this market every day and collect at certain hot spots. After a Canadian 
company announced it had found the world's biggest gold deposit in 
the Indonesian rain forest, everyone wanted in. The penny stock soared 
to nearly $300 a share — until allegations of fraud surfaced and the 
house of cards came tumbling down, and with it billions of investor 
dollars, including hundreds of millions invested through pension 
funds. We sink billions into mutual funds and retirement plans, assum- 
ing these to be secure, broad-based, blue-chip investments. But what's 
in these funds? Just as with hot dogs, you don't really want to know. 
Some of your money may be bolstering the economies of dubious, 
often atrocious, even genocidal regimes. 

About half a million people around the world wake up every day, 
leave the world of people, work and nature, and play money games in 
cyberspace. They invent new instruments (futures, bonds, derivatives, 
arbitrage, etc.), each with its own risks and rewards, creating $50 in play 
money for every $1 worth of real products and services actually circu- 
lating in the world. They further inflate the amount of "money" in the 

The Global Economic Pyramid Scheme 93 

system by borrowing from each other and bidding up prices. Trillions of 
dollars slosh around this system every day making billions of dollars of 
virtual profits for the nimble and the quick. Even as these people sleep, 
their computers continue searching for margins of profit, automatically 
triggering buys and sell-offs when the conditions are right. 

At the U.S. investment house Kidder Peabody, a single trader 
reports $1.7 trillion in phony trades over two years before he is caught. 
At Barings Bank in Britain a young broker, praised for having an 
"almost unique capacity" to produce big profits without taking signifi- 
cant risks, loses $1.3 billion in one month. He bankrupts the 233-year- 
old bank with his enthusiasm for Japanese futures. 

Those famed, highly speculative "derivatives" aren't just the special 
currency of young sharks. The accounting firm of Ernst and Young 
revealed in 1997 that nearly a third of the investment funds it had been 
tracking included derivatives. Overall, 97 percent of the world's mone- 
tary transactions are now speculative. In 1970, the figure hovered 
around 30 percent. 

Blind trust is a scary thing. We give up control of our money. We 
assume the markets will hold and our nest eggs will grow, when in truth 
our investment portfolio is often held together with baling wire and 
blind faith. 

And what about the global economy? Is it viable? Is there enough 
real "estate," real factories, real jobs, real gold mines? Is there enough 
good topsoil? Are there enough fish left in the sea? Is there enough real 
economic progress to keep the whole thing growing? And if so, for how 

On October 27, 1987 — Black Monday — the Dow Jones Industrial 
Average fell 554 points, the biggest single-day plunge in ten years. Cir- 
cuit breakers on the NYSE kicked in and shut down trading. Just days 
earlier, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index had suffered a similar crash, join- 
ing a half dozen Asian economies that had fallen or would soon fall in a 
domino effect of pessimism. Americans — a plucky lot — rebounded 
quickly. Analysts here called the dive a "correction." Investors jumped 
back in and the Dow was soon soaring toward 10,000 again, as if noth- 

94 Culture Jam 

ing had happened. But something had happened. The synchronized 
crashes showed the awesome degree to which world markets are now 
codependent; how the global economy is now one entity. Everything we 
do has global implications. Crisis is never far away. The Japanese, Chi- 
nese and Asian "tiger" economies have proven much more precarious 
than we thought. Our own economy depends, to a great extent, on 
managed public moods and panic held at bay by carefully scripted reas- 
surances from the G-7 leaders and Alan Greenspan at the U.S. Federal 
Reserve. What would happen if, on top of our current insecurities, the 
fear of escalating climate change (planetary ecology and economy 
caught in a deadly downward spiral) suddenly became real to us? Here's 
a good guess: a crash to dwarf Black Friday and Black Monday. You've 
got to wonder how long we can continue playing the neoclassical 
expansionist game, living off our natural capital and calling it income, 
before the pyramid collapses and the G-7 leaders head for the hills. 

The Albanians may have been naive, but their actions were under- 
standable. They had to do something with their money because it was 
rapidly losing its worth. The Japanese, Koreans, Malaysians, Indone- 
sians, and to some degree the rest of us are now caught in a similar vise. 
We're worried about the future. We don't want to suffer in our old age. 
We want a secure sum to retire on. We're nervous and impatient. We 
want our money to grow quickly. So we try stocks, bonds and futures, 
and hope our nest egg is growing. "Invest my money wisely," we tell our 
brokers and we place our future in their hands. 

Pyramid schemes depend on a continuous supply of dupes (early 
contributors being paid from the pockets of later ones). When no new 
contributors can be found, these schemes fail. In the expansionist 
model of the global economy, future generations — our children and 
our children's children — are the dupes. As supplies of clean water and 
air grow scarce, as forests, cod, salmon and wildlife vanish, as climatic 
instability escalates, we will eventually reach a point where one genera- 
tion suddenly balks, unable to buy into the scheme. How close we are to 
that moment of truth is anybody's guess. 

Recently I saw a TV news item about a town in Nebraska where the 

The Global Economic Pyramid Scheme 95 

accumulating smoke from wood-burning stoves was making the resi- 
dents sick. Asthma sufferers had to be hospitalized. Children couldn't 
play outside after school. A local bylaw was finally enacted to restrict 
wood burning to Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Many 
townspeople were outraged. How dare someone tell me what to do in 
my own home! they howled. What's next? You're going to tell me I can't 
drive my car? Can't own a gun? Can't have a second child, like in China? 

I'm well acquainted with this type of response. Every year the 
Media Foundation tries to purchase airtime for its "Buy Nothing Day" 
TV campaign, which asks Americans to put away their wallets on the 
last Friday of November. Every year every major network turns our ad 
down, but one program — CNN Headline News — takes our money and 
runs our spot. Every year after the ad airs, dozens of irate viewers jam 
our 1-800 line. "Get out of this country, you pinko tree-huggers," one 
concerned citizen explained last year. "Go back to where you came 

For an enormous number of people, the idea that they should set 
limits on themselves is unthinkable: "Why should I cut back? This is my 
paycheck, this is my life." Any restriction on this unfettered freedom to 
consume just does not square with the American dream. Our current 
economic system cannot tolerate any reduction in consumption. We 
simply cannot deal with that idea. That is our rigidity. And that is the 
kind of rigidity that brings civilizations down. 

Meanwhile, back at the G-7 summit, the world leaders are putting 
on a good show for the thousands of journalists, reporters and TV 
crews. There are daily news releases, communiques, background papers, 
joint declarations and photo ops. The PR people do their thing. A 
protest erupts as a few thousand people link hands and try to circle one 
of the leaders' meetings, but on TV this demonstration comes off as 
merely another part of the spectacle, somehow lending even more cred- 
ibility to the event and reinforcing its importance and legitimacy. 

The U.S. president reads some words prepared for him by his pol- 
icy advisers. Millions around the world watch the proceedings on the 
evening news. We feel mildly reassured. These guys must know what 

96 Culture Jam 

they're doing. Despite the recent worrisome rumblings, the global eco- 
nomic vessel is on course. The unsinkable ship of dreams proceeds into 
the night. Inured, we grab the remote, switch away from the news and 
settle on The X-Files, where agent Fox Mulder is once again sniffing out 
some wild conspiracy. 



Most people in the world have never heard of culture jamming. Yet it is 
not a new movement. We place ourselves on a revolutionary continuum 
that includes, moving backward in time, early punk rockers, the '60s 
hippie movement, a group of European intellectuals and conceptual 
artists called the Situationist International (born of the Lettrist Interna- 
tional), the surrealists, Dadaists, anarchists, and a host of other social 
agitators down through the ages whose chief aim was to challenge the 
prevailing ethos in a way that was so primal and heartfelt it could only 
be true. 

What we all have in common — besides a belligerent attitude 
toward authority — is a willingness to take big risks, and a commitment 
to pursue small, spontaneous moments of truth. Opportunities to act 
boldly (which often means not the way you would normally, reflexively 
act) present themselves every day and maybe even every hour. Authen- 
tic acts tend to get noticed amid the fakery and correctness on which 
postmodern culture thrives. "In a small room where people unani- 
mously maintain a conspiracy of silence," said Nobel laureate Czeslaw 
Milosz, "one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot." 

100 Culture Jam 

In his book Lipstick Traces, American cultural critic Greil Marcus 
fixes The Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten squarely in the tradition of the 
rebel seer. Rotten was a gleeful anarchist who used the word "fuck" on 
television and sang like he meant to change the world — or at least 
explode the dreamy, Beatles-fueled optimism of the day, and stick a fork 
into classic rock. He somehow rose above the obvious joke of The Pis- 
tols — the naked commercialism and hype of a band without much tal- 
ent — and created something vital. 

It's not clear whether Rotten knew anything about the Situationist 
International. But The Sex Pistols and the SI were most definitely on the 
same page, philosophically. Their song "Anarchy in the U.K." espoused, 
in crudely poetic form, the philosophy of the movement. The Pistols 
wanted to live "not as an object but as a subject of the story," as Marcus 
puts it. That's about as good a working definition of the culture jam- 
mers' ethos as you'll ever find. 

Marcus recalls watching Johnny Rotten shouting madly over the 
band's guitars in front of the Berlin Wall and understanding that "his 
aim . . . was to take in all the rage, intelligence and strength in his being 
and then fling them back at the world; to make the world notice; to 
make the world doubt its most cherished and unexamined beliefs." I 
think culture jammers can learn a lot from the original punks. They 
were one of the first to feel the nihilism and to rail against a world that 
offered no future — and for a few years their rage shook the world. 

The punks, like the hippies, yippies, beats, anarchists, Dadaists, 
surrealists, automatistes, fluxists and any number of other disaffected 
visionaries, represented an age-old spirit of spontaneous defiance 
toward the established order. But it was the Situationists who first 
applied that spirit of anarchy to modern media culture. They were the 
first to understand how the media spectacle slowly corrodes the human 
psyche. They were, in a sense, the first postmodern revolutionaries. 

The Situationists were originally just eight artists and writers, most 
of them European, who sat down one July day in 1957 in the little town 
of Cosio d'Arroscia, Italy, to have a little fun together over Gauloises 
and absinthe. Though a reasonably short-lived group (by the '70s, most 

The Revolutionary Impulse 101 

everyone had forgotten about them), they generated an anarchic drive 
that a generation of students, artists and radicals recognized as the real 

The Situationists declared a commitment to "a life of permanent 
novelty." They were interested only in freedom, and just about any 
means to it were justified. The creativity of everyday people, which con- 
sumer capitalism and communism had weakened but not killed, des- 
perately needed to find expression. Down with the bureaucracies and 
hierarchies and ideologies that stifled spontaneity and free will. To the 
Situationists, you are — everyone is — a creator of situations, a perfor- 
mance artist, and the performance, of course, is your life, lived in your 
own way. Various stunts were concocted to foster spontaneous living. 
Situationist members suggested knocking down churches to make space 
for children to play, and putting switches on the street lamps so lighting 
would be under public control. 

The Situationists believed that many times a day, each of us comes 
to a little fork in the path. We can then do one of two things: act the way 
we normally, reflexively act, or do something a little risky and wild, but 
genuine. We can choose to live our life as "a moral, poetic, erotic, and 
almost spiritual refusal" to cooperate with the demands of consumer 

The Situationists spoke often of the "spectacle" of modern life. The 
term encompassed everything from billboards to art exhibitions to soc- 
cer matches to radio and TV. Broadly speaking, it meant modern soci- 
ety's "spectacular" level of commodity consumption and hype. Everything 
human beings once experienced directly had been turned into a show 
put on by someone else. Real living had been replaced by prepackaged 
experiences and media-created events. Immediacy was gone. Now there 
was only "mediacy" — life as mediated through other instruments, life as 
a media creation. The Situationists used the term "kidnapped": The 
spectacle had "kidnapped" our real lives, co-opting whatever authentic- 
ity we once had. 

I think this helps explain the strong visceral reaction so many peo- 
ple had to Nike's use of the Beatles tune "Revolution," and, later, to 

102 Culture Jam 

Apple's appropriation of Bob Dylan and The Gap's (posthumous) mug- 
ging of Jack Kerouac. Nostalgic, griping yuppies may not have been able 
to articulate it perfectly, but they understood that some fundamental 
part of their lives had been stolen. 

In the Richard Linklater film Before Sunrise, the young hero, played 
by Ethan Hawke, has an existential crisis: He suddenly grows sick to 
death of his own company. Every party he goes to, there he is. Every bus 
he rides, every class he attends, he runs into . . . himself. For him, even 
his own identity had somehow become a spectacle. Here Linklater is 
staring into the Situationist abyss, and finding it a little terrifying. To 
paraphrase Situationist leader Guy Debord: Where the self is by proxy, it 
is not. This may also explain why one of the juiciest consumer target 
groups is the man or woman known as the "emulator." Emulators look 
for products that make them feel like somebody else — someone more 
important. Since no product can help you fully escape your old identity, 
frustration mounts, a credit card is produced and the cycle of alienation 
deepens. (Situationists might point to emulators as proof of a devolu- 
tion in the state of living: from "being" to "having," and then from "hav- 
ing" to "appearing to have.") 

Debord remains a largely unheralded visionary. Derided in his 
later years, nearly canonized in France immediately following his sui- 
cide in 1967 and then gradually forgotten, Debord is only now enjoying 
a little posthumous fame — especially in France, where a group calling 
themselves the "Perpendiculaires" have positioned themselves as spiri- 
tual progeny of the Situationists. They maintain that culture ought to be 
spread laterally (through salon-type discussions) rather than vertically 
(through TV and the Internet). 

In some ways, Debord was even more of a pioneer of the mental 
environment than his high-profile coeval, Marshall McLuhan. Where 
McLuhan only described the mass-culture trance, Debord developed 
some effective ways to break out of it. One way was the derive. Literally 
"the drift," the derive was an idea borrowed from the Dadaists. The Sit- 
uationists defined it as "locomotion without a goal." As a deriviste, you 
float through the city, open to whatever you come in contact with, thus 

The Revolutionary Impulse 103 

exposing yourself to the whole spectrum of feelings you encounter by 
chance in everyday life. Openness is key. You embrace whatever you 
love, and in the process, you discover what it is you hate. 

The Situationists believed the derive could largely replace the old 
twin occupations of work and entertainment, and become a model for 
the "playful creation" of a new way of life. The deriviste is a drifter in the 
best possible sense, not someone down and out but up and beyond, liv- 
ing outside the stifling roles society prescribes for us. Living well, 
Debord said, involves the "systematic questioning of all the diversions 
and works of a society, a total critique of its idea of happiness." 

Another of the Situationists' favorite tropes was detournement, 
which Debord proposed as a way for people to take back the spectacle 
that had kidnapped their lives. Literally a "turning around," detourne- 
ment involved rerouting spectacular images, environments, ambiences 
and events to reverse or subvert their meaning, thus reclaiming them. 
With its limitless supply of ideas, ranging from rewriting the speech bal- 
loons of comic-strip characters, to altering the width of streets and the 
heights of buildings and the colors and shapes of doors and windows, to 
radically reinterpreting world events such as the 1965 Watts riots in Los 
Angeles, the Internationale Situationniste — the journal the Situationists 
published between 1958 and 1969 — was a sometimes profound, some- 
times absurd laboratory of provocation and detournement. Once, 
Debord altered a famous drawing of Lenin by placing a barebreasted 
woman on his forehead with the caption "The Universe Turns on the 
Tips of Breasts." Debord had his book Memoires bound in heavy sand- 
paper so that when it was placed on the shelves of libraries, it would 
destroy other books. One famous detournement happened in the Notre 
Dame cathedral on Easter Sunday in 1950. With thousands of people 
watching, a Lettrist provocateur dressed as a Dominican monk slipped 
onto the altar and delivered a sermon accusing the Catholic Church of 
"the deadly diversion of the force of life in favor of an empty heaven," 
and then solemnly proclaimed that "God is dead." It was with this spirit 
of detournement that the Situationists invaded enemy territory and 
tried to "devalue the currency of the spectacle." And it was with this 

104 Culture Jam 

defiance that they intended to pull off a cultural revolution, "a gigantic 
turning around of the existing social world." 

The Situationists had some fairly radical notions that, when you 
consider them deeply, make sense. They believed that vacations, so 
cherished by the masses as a kind of sanity-saver, instead just enforce 
"the loop of alienation and domination" and symbolize "the false 
promises of modern life." (If you're living a full life, why would you 
want to "get away" from it?) A memorable neo-Situationist slogan 
reads: "Club Med, a Cheap Holiday in Other People's Misery." 

In The Revolution of Everyday Life, which apart from Debord's The 
Society of Spectacle is the seminal book to emerge from the Situationist 
movement, Raul Vaneigem argued that everyday life is ultimately the 
measure of all things, and the ground on which all revolutions must 
unfold. But, he argued, an unfortunate, alienating self-consciousness 
has crept into our lives. "Even the tiniest of gestures — opening a door, 
holding a teacup, a facial expression — and the most private and individ- 
ual actions — coming home, making tea, arguing with a lover — have 
always already been represented and shown to us within the spectacle." 
Thus, our most intimate gestures have become stereotypes, and our 
lives cliched. But Vaneigem passionately believed that the spectacle was 
fast approaching a saturation point, a crisis out of which "a new poetry 
of real experience and a reinvention of life are bound to spring." 

Today, the stultifying passivity and alienation of the spectacle in 
our lives has increased to proportions Vaneigem and Debord could 
hardly have imagined. The great, insidious power of the spectacle lies in 
the fact that it is actually a form of mental slavery that we are free to 
resist, only it never occurs to us to do so. Our media-saturated postmod- 
ern world, where all communication flows in one direction, from the 
powerful to the powerless, produces a population of lumpen spectators 
"modern men and women, the citizens of the most advanced societies 
on earth, thrilled to watch whatever it is they're given to watch." 

Greil Marcus calls this the "democracy of false desire." The specta- 
cle is an instrument of social control, offering the illusion of unlimited 
choice, but in fact reducing the field of play to a choice of preselected 

The Revolutionary Impulse 105 

experiences: adventure movies, nature shows, celebrity romances, polit- 
ical scandals, ball games, net surfing 

Boredom emerges in the Situationist literature as one of the Big 
Enemies. The Situationists saw a world crushed by wasted potential. 
Mass mechanization, for example, was supposed to create vast stretches 
of leisure time in which people could create free-flowing, imaginative 
lives for themselves. Instead, people were allowing their leisure hours to 
be gobbled up by programmed entertainments. Increasingly, they 
weren't in control of their own fun anymore. The Situationist solution: 
Take back the show. Create your own atmospheres, ambiences and situa- 
tions. Build something "provisional and lived." One might, to cite one 
example, take the predictable city and redesign it as a bunch of emotive 
neighborhoods — the "bizarre" quarter, the "sinister" quarter, the 
"tragic" quarter, the "happy" quarter, and the "useful" quarter — that 
people can drift in and out of. 

Whatever else you might think of Guy Debord — that he was wildly 
idealistic and extreme in his views — he did walk the walk. He created a 
life free of spectacle (except right at the end when, sick and in pain, he 
carefully orchestrated his own spectacular suicide by a gunshot through 
the heart). He never had a job; he spent his time in taverns, arguing phi- 
losophy, drinking and writing. He consistently refused interviews with 
the press and wrote only six slim volumes. "I wrote much less than most 
people who write, but drank much more than most people who drink," 
he once remarked. For him life really was an eternal festival. He believed 
passionately in his own destiny and that of his friends. "Our kind will be 
the first to blaze a trail into a new life," he boasted. 

The heroes of the Situationists' era were unbridled and anarchical, 
pure vessels of poetic expression, living somehow out of time. They 
were the polar opposite of the people often held up as examples in our 
own age of workaholism — competitive, ambitious folks who, as Welsh 
historian L.T.C. Rolt put it in his classic book High Horse Riderless, 
"believe in faster trains and more traffic, who ravage the landscape 
while claiming to protect it, who disintegrate the family while assuring 
us it is their priority, who sanctify work while increasing unemploy- 

106 Culture Jam 

ment. All this because they have jettisoned faith in the true spiritual 
nature of the human being and have not the courage to risk being real, 
but must always be striving to become superior to their competitors." 

The cognitive psychologist Abraham Maslow spoke of the impor- 
tance of peak experiences in the life of a fully functioning, or "self- 
actualized," human being. These experiences are so engrossing to the 
senses — in this instant, this act — that people actually feel they are living 
out of time. Other disciplines have other names for it. Zen Buddhists 
call peak experiences satori. "Generations of poets, prophets, and revo- 
lutionaries, not to mention lovers, drug-takers, and all those who have 
somehow found the time to stand and stare" have craved this ecstatic 
feeling of oneness with the world. This is also why many culture jam- 
mers take daily leaps of faith, or of courage — acts that take them out- 
side market-structured consciousness long enough to get a taste of real 
living. Living in the moment, pursuing the authentic gesture, living 
close to the edge — call it what you will — when it's genuine, it's the force 
that makes life worth living. It is also what consumer capitalism takes 
away from you every time it sells you brand-name "cool" or this 
month's rebel attitude. 

When I was shooting a film in Japan called Satori in the Right Cor- 
tex, I asked the head monk of a Zen monastery in Kamakura if I could 
take footage of his disciples meditating. Yes, he said, but first you must 
meditate. He wasn't talking about a quick namaste and a couple of 
mumbled koans. He meant sitting for two full days. So I took him up on 
his challenge. I sat on the floor meditating until my back stiffened, 
joints ached and muscles cramped. It was physical and psychological 
torture — a hell I will never forget. But by the end of the second day 
something really had changed. The monk had forced a painful interrup- 
tion in my soft routine, and I emerged humbled, thankful and, for a few 
hours, euphoric. Maybe only when you're shoved into a new pattern of 
behavior and make the commitment not to back out — when your hand 
is held to the fire or you hold your own hand to the fire — do the real 
gains come. When the trance is interrupted, you catch a brief, tantaliz- 
ing glimpse of the way life could be. 

The Revolutionary Impulse 107 

What does this have to do with revolution and culture jamming? 
Everything. Interrupting the stupefyingly comfortable patterns we've 
fallen into isn't pleasant or easy. It's like crawling out of your warm bed 
in your dark room one December morning at five A.M. and plunging 
into a tub of ice water. It shocks the system. But sometimes shock is 
what a system needs. It's certainly what our bloated, self-absorbed con- 
sumer culture needs. 

Culture jamming is, at root, just a metaphor for stopping the flow 
of spectacle long enough to adjust your set. Stopping the flow relies on 
an element of surprise. That's why a Zen master may suddenly throw 
you a wildly cryptic, inappropriate, even obscene answer to your harm- 
less query. He might answer your question by removing his shoe and 
placing it on top of his head, or throwing it at you, or telling you that if 
you meet Buddha on the road you must kill him. The Zen master is try- 
ing to break your trance. He's showing you a new path to the waterfall. 
Debord called this kind of thing "breaking the old syntax," and replac- 
ing it with a new one. The new syntax carries the instructions for "a 
whole new way of being in the world." 

What does the perceptual shift feel like when it comes? Imagine a 
desperately down-and-out soul who suddenly finds God. Now try to 
imagine the opposite of that process. This moment of reckoning is not 
so much like suddenly seeing heaven in a world you thought was hell as 
it is suddenly seeing hell in a world you thought was heaven. That world 
is the world of summer blockbusters and $5 lattes and Super Bowls in 
which a thirty-second ad slot sells for $1.5 million — the spectacular 
world of the American dream, a world you were raised to believe was 
the best of all worlds, but a world that collapses under scrutiny. If you 
stare at your reflection in the mirror long enough, your face becomes a 
monster's face, with enormous sunken gargoyle eyes. 

In the 1998 film The Truman Show, a corporation adopts Truman 
Burbank at birth, then carefully scripts a whirl of product placement 
and impression management into his life, which is televised live, 
twenty-four hours a day. The only time Truman upsets that managed 
order, when he catches a glimpse of the real world behind his scripted 

108 Culture Jam 

life, is when he does something spontaneous. Slowly, he comes to realize 
that only a chain of spontaneous acts will lead to salvation. The culture 
jammer is seized by a similar sense of urgency to do something, any- 
thing, to escape the consumerist script. 

Buddhist mythology tells the tale of Buddha's enlightenment. In 
the beginning Buddha is a plump, rich fellow living in an opulent 
palace. Occasionally, on his walks around the grounds, he spies, through 
fissures in the palace walls, the world of suffering, pain and disease. He 
is repulsed, but also mesmerized. Eventually, he decides to leave the 
palace and live in that real world. There's a lesson here for jammers 
about how to snap the First World out of its media- consumer trance. 
Each time the flow of images and information is interrupted — by any 
spontaneous, individual act, or any act of mass-media detournement — 
it's like the Buddha catching a glimpse through the palace wall. Over 
time — say five or ten years — the glimpses add up to a fairly detailed pic- 
ture of life outside the palace. 

If enough people saw the light and undertook spontaneous acts at 
once, the Situationists believed, the result would be a mass awakening 
that would suddenly devalue the currency of the spectacle. "The 
detournement of the right sign, in the right place at the right time, 
could spark a mass reversal of perspective," Greil Marcus said. Suddenly, 
the spectacle would be exposed in all its emptiness. Everyone would see 
through it. 

This is how the spell is broken. This is how the revolution begins: A 
few people start slipping out of old patterns, daydreaming, questioning, 
rebelling. What happens naturally then, the Situationists believed, is a 
groundswell of support for this new way of being, with more and more 
people empowered to perform new gestures "unencumbered by his- 
tory." The new generation, the Situationists believed, "would leave noth- 
ing to chance." 

Those words still haunt us. The society of spectacle has triumphed. 
The American dream has devolved into exactly the vacant obliviousness 
they talked about — a have-a-nice-day kind of happiness that close 
examination tends to disturb. If you keep up appearances, keep yourself 

The Revolutionary Impulse 109 

diverted with new acquisitions and constant entertainments, keep your- 
self pharmacologized and recoil the moment you feel real life seeping in 
between the cracks, you'll be all right. 
Some dream. 

If the old American dream was about prosperity, maybe the new 
one will be about spontaneity. 

The Situationists maintained that ordinary people have all the 
tools they need for revolution. The only thing missing is a perceptual 
shift — a tantalizing glimpse of a new way of being — that suddenly 
brings everything into focus. 


You may already be a culture jammer. Maybe you're a student who does 
not want a career working for corporate America. A graphic artist tired 
of selling your soul to ad agency clients. A vegan. A biker. A maverick 
professor. An Earth Firster who liberated a billboard last night. 

We jammers are a loose global network of artists, activists, envi- 
ronmentalists, Green entrepreneurs, media-literacy teachers, down- 
shifters, reborn Lefties, high-school shit disturbers, campus rabble-rousers, 
dropouts, incorrigibles, poets, philosophers, ecofeminists. We cover the 
spectrum from the cool intellectual middle to the violent lunatic fringe, 
from Raging Grannies who chant doggerel at protests to urban guerril- 
las who stage wild street parties. We are ecological economists, TV jam- 
mers, ethical investors. We paint our own bike lanes, reclaim streets, 
"skull" Calvin Klein ads, and paste GREASE stickers on tables and trays 
at McDonald's restaurants. We organize swap meets, rearrange items on 
supermarket shelves, make our software available free on the Net, and 
generally apply ourselves to the daily business of getting consumer cul- 
ture to bite its own tail. We're idealists, anarchists, guerrilla tacticians, 
hoaxers, pranksters, neo-Luddites, malcontents and punks. We are the 

112 Culture Jam 

ragtag remnants of oppositional culture — what's left of the revolution- 
ary impulse in the jaded "fin de millenium atmosphere of postmoder- 
nity" in which revolution is said to be no longer possible. What we share 
is an overwhelming rage against consumer capitalism, and a vague 
sense that our time has come to act as a collective force. 

On the simplest level, we are a growing band of people who have 
given up on the American dream. Here are a few samples of the way we 

• Instead of treating vegetative, corporate-driven TV culture as 
something to be gently, ironically mocked, it's time to face the 
whole ugly specter of our TV-addicted nation, the savage anomie 
of a society entranced and entrapped and living a lie. It's time to 
admit that chronic TV watching is North America's number one 
mental health problem, and that a society in which citizens spend a 
quarter of their waking lives (more than four hours a day) in front 
of their sets is in serious need of shock therapy. 

• We recycle our beer cans, newspapers and vodka bottles; we join 
car pools and food co-ops; we turn our thermostats down at night. 
We do all the right things. So why do our environmental problems 
just keep getting worse? Maybe it's time we stopped expending our 
energies on small do-goody gestures and faced the fact that many 
of the paradigms within which we live — cultural, social, eco- 
nomic — are outdated and dysfunctional. Most of our environmen- 
tal "solutions" are red herrings. They deflect energy from the 
essential work at hand. What we need is not just fewer cars on the 
roads but new cities designed chiefly with pedestrians, bicycles and 
public transport in mind. Not just new ecofriendly products, but 
new consumption patterns and new lifestyles. Not just a carbon 
tax, but a global across-the-board pricing system that tells the eco- 
logical truth. Not just new measures of economic progress more 
accurate than the GDP, but a radical rethinking of the neoclassical 
paradigm we've been teaching in Economics 101 for the past few 

The New Activism (Fire in the Belly) 


• Ours is a society filled with exceptional individuals, affluent com- 
munities, efficient businesses, top-notch universities and exciting 
cities. But that is no longer enough. The concept of excellence must 
now be applied to the whole culture. We have never been afraid of 
getting tough with the other broken systems in our lives; we retrain 
workers, dump governments, and eagerly, completely revamp 
entire corporate cultures such as IBM's when they lose their sense 
of mission. Now let's apply that same sense of focused urgency to 
the repair of our culture. 

Let's rethink our vital components — our information delivery 
systems, our basic ideas about nutrition, transportation and 
economics. Let's commit, totally, passionately, to reducing our 
ecological footprint, to learning how to measure progress accu- 
rately, to countering the information viruses spreading in our 
midst. Instead of resisting this kind of fundamental change, let's 
embrace it. Let's cheer on our cultural rebels even as we fear 
them. Let's revel in (or at least not shy away from) the life and 
death of our paradigms. 

But more exactly, more precisely, what do we culture jammers 
actually stand for? What do we want? Perhaps the best way to explain 
and define ourselves is to be clear about who — or what — we aren't. 

We're Not Cool 

"Cool" used to mean unique, spontaneous, compelling. The coolest kid 
was the one everyone wanted to be like but no one quite could, because 
her individuality was utterly distinct. Then "cool" changed. Marketers 
got hold of it and reversed its meaning. Now you're cool if you are not 
unique — if you have the look and feel that bear the unmistakable stamp 
of America™. Hair by Paul Mitchell. Khakis by The Gap. Car by BMW. 
Attitude by Nike. Pet phrases by Letterman. Politics by Bill Maher. Cool 
is the opiate of our time, and over a couple of generations, we have 
grown dependent on it to maintain our identities of inclusion. 

114 Culture Jam 

Legitimately cool people instinctively understand that the psychol- 
ogy of subservience — getting corporately seduced — is a chicken-ass 
way to live. Today, such people are an endangered species. 

What's cool now? Same as always: It's cool to rebel. But a lot of peo- 
ple who think they're rebelling, aren't. It's quite a trick the Culture Trust 
has pulled off, to offer, as The Baffler editor Tom Frank puts it, "Estab- 
lishment and Resistance in one convenient package." We think we're 
buying anarchy when what we're actually buying is just corporate- 
crafted conformity. We're buying a rebel template instead of creating 
our own. 

Let's face it: When you dress to the nines, drive to the max and 
order a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that costs more than a weekend in 
New England, you're just showing off. And, as Harvard economist Juliet 
Schor pointed out in The Overspent American, showing off in this way 
is, ultimately, a political act. 

An increasing number of people are growing uncomfortable with 
the gulf between the world's rich and poor. Ostentatiously splashing 
your money around simply draws attention to that disparity, and to 
your own position on the lucky high ground. It suggests a callousness, 
an inhumanity, a let's-just-rub-their-noses-in-it arrogance. 

Inegalitarianism and exclusiveness are not cool. First World opu- 
lence is not cool. A culture that keeps hyping people to consume more is 
not cool. America™ is not cool. And the people who fall for the hype are 
the worst kind of uncool: They're suckers. 

We're Not Slackers 

The generation of North Americans born between 1965 and 1980 — in 
Canadian writer Hal Niedzviecki's coinage, the "Malaise Generation" — 
seems to have pretty much given up hope that any good will come of 
this place called Earth. Taken as a group (and there are of course some 
exceptional overachievers within this group — exceptions that prove the 
rule), this generation represents the biggest waste of potential energy, 
passion, creativity and intellect in our time. This generation, which in 

The New Activism (Fire in the Belly) 115 
primitive societies would have done the bulk of the tribe's work, has 
voluntarily removed itself from the collective effort because . . . hey, 
what's the point? Slackers spend days on end sharpening their sardonic 
edge on the whetstone of apathy. They philosophize on the meaning of 
a Kraft Dinner, they fish Hush Puppies from the discount bins of Wal- 
Mart or, in a burst of inspiration, they issue zines with names like 
A.d.i.d.a.s {All Day I Dream About Suicide). To slackers, the worst crime 
is to admit to being committed to anything, because then you appear 
earnest, and earnest ain't ironic. It ain't cool. So maybe it's better just to 
drift down to Santa Monica, to "sit beside the ocean and watch the 
world die." 

Meanwhile, on the American campus — the great waiting room, the 
traditional place for radical demonstrations to rage — not much is hap- 
pening. While Indonesian, Chinese, and Korean students fight corrup- 
tion and injustice and shake up their nations, North American 
undergrads doze in the library. There's no real rush to finish a degree 
because what lies on the other side but debt, pavement pounding and 
the potential shame of boomeranging back home? 

Members of the Malaise Generation understand that they — we — 
are all dupes of the consumer culture. They understand. They just 
aren't willing to do anything about it. And that's where I lose patience 
with them; that's when an irrepressible anger wells up. "Life sucks." 
Okay. So fix a small corner of it. When so much is at stake, how can 
you be so complacent? 

We're Not Academic 

Why do we feel so confused and uncertain? Where do our malaise and 
cynicism come from? What's wrong with the affluent West? There's 
been no shortage of analysis. In academic journals and on TV panel 
shows, scientists and pundits offer their theories and explanations. 
They've studied the psychological and physical dimensions of the prob- 
lem and laid the cards on the table. Mood disorders are rising and male 
sperm counts are falling, due to chemical pollution of our air, water and 

116 Culture Jam 

food. But the scientists warn us not to confuse correlation with causation, 
not to jump to conclusions. A full understanding of these recent phe- 
nomena requires further research, more testing, more funds. The global 
temperature is rising because our cars are pumping too much carbon 
into the atmosphere. But we cannot allow ourselves to get too alarmed 
just yet. We need to study this further before we can be sure. There are 
links between exposure to diesel fumes and asthma, between chronic 
TV viewing and the desire to snooze all day. This merits serious investi- 
gation. Many areas of our society can be shown to be deficient in all 
manner of ways and here, ladies and gentlemen, are the graphs. 

Moat academics just ramble. Far too few raise a fist or a voice. 
Communications professors tell their students everything that's wrong 
with the global media monopoly, but never a word about how to fix it. 
Economics professors drone on endlessly about their macroeconomic 
models while in the real world we live off the planet's natural capital 
and the backs of future generations. 

We in the affluent West — the children of Socrates, Plato, Pascal, 
Descartes, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx and Wittgenstein — now live almost 
exclusively in the left cortex of our brains. The dominant personality in 
our culture is the logic freak: the macroeconomist, the biotechnician, 
the investment guru, the computer whiz; the dispassionate thinker. 
Mesmerized by binary options — black and white, good and bad, right 
and wrong, heaven and hell, 1 and — we've become a McLaughlin 
Group culture. We just talk. We don't actually do anything. And why 
should we? Why would the people living the cushiest lives on the planet 
want anything to change? Why should we spoil our sinecure when we 
can pretend to be deeply concerned, keep the analysis humming and the 
big salaries and consulting fees rolling in? 

Thousands of delegates descend on Rio, Kyoto and New York City 
for the Earth summits, generating tons of garbage and exhaust. Strong 
statements are made, reams of reports are generated. The delegates 
enjoy multicourse dinners of regional cuisine. Nothing changes. 

Nonexperts — regular reasonable people — are disgusted by all this 
dithering. They already have a pretty good idea of what's going on. They 

The New Activism (Fire in the Belly) 117 
can tell by the issues their politicians choose not to address. By the hur- 
ricanes and floods that signal a rearrangement of the heavy furniture of 
the ecosystem. By the surge of robotic consumption in the malls at 
Christmastime. By the way their kids' expressions grow vacant by the 
third hour of television viewing. 

Abbie Hoffman nailed it when, after being told that academics and 
experts were busy analyzing the subject of "subversive activity," he said: 
"What the fuck you analyzin' for, man? Get in and do it!" And Edward 
Abbey nailed it when he said: "Sentiment without action is the ruin of 
the soul." 

We're Not Feminists 

I remember well how passionate, exciting and outrageous feminists 
were in the '60s and 70s, how they challenged just about every aspect of 
the way we lived. Most clearly, I remember the hope and direction they 
gave me and my generation. 

But, perhaps a casualty of its own considerable success, feminism 
has now become an ideology, a strangely irrelevant "ism" stuck in 
another era, too narrowly focused on its own special interests and 
increasingly divided against itself. I knew feminism was in trouble 
about ten years ago when I saw a WOMEN ONLY sign hanging over a 
drop-in center doorway at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University. Relent- 
less attention to small, self-serving issues has deflected attention from 
the broader questions of what's fundamentally wrong with our culture 
as a whole. For too many of the feminists I meet today, at conferences, 
brainstorming sessions and in my work as editor of Adbusters, every- 
thing automatically boils down to a gender issue. I just can't buy that. 

Feminism still holds great intellectual power, and I am sure it will 
continue to play a crucial role in softening up the male fiefdoms of sci- 
ence, medicine and philosophy, and in promoting holism and a more 
intimate relationship with the natural world. Recently, the insightful 
audacity of a few eco- and cyberfeminists — Suzi Gablik, Donna Har- 
away and Sadie Plant among them — has surprised and delighted me 

118 Culture Jam 

and reminded me of the old glory days. Perhaps they, and others like 
them, will rise above the current self- absorption of feminist politics and 
unleash a new wave of cultural excitement over the world. But, by and 
large, feminism today has ceased being a broad-based social movement 
and become just one of many special interest "victim" groups vying for 
a piece of the money and the action. 

We're Not Lefties 

Many jammers, including myself, were raised on, embraced and felt 
most comfortable with the ideas of the Left. But for about fifteen years 
now, the Left has been letting us down. It has become tired, self-satisfied 
and dogmatic. (I think of Allen Ginsberg, who found that his mother's 
simplistic Left-wing views left him suspicious of both sides.) Back in the 
'50s and '60s, the Left was visionary and fearless. Today the fire in its 
belly has gone out. It isn't getting the job done. 
What happened? 

Certainly, the collapse of the Soviet empire undermined the Left's 
whole philosophical base. Government control, central planning, public 
ownership (and by extension the welfare state and social democracy) 
were all shown to be fundamentally flawed. Today, nations are purging 
these ideological remnants and adopting free-market philosophies. 
Those philosophies are also seriously flawed, but they are far better than 
centralized government control of every aspect of economic life. When 
I saw the wholesale ecological devastation that the Communist era had 
left behind, I stopped calling myself a Lefty right then and there. 

But old Lefties die hard. 

We find in Mother Jones, The Nation, Z, Extra, The Multinational 
Monitor and dozens of Left-sprung books, magazines and newsletters 
the same old authors repeating the same old ideas of yesteryear. It isn't 
that many of these writers aren't fine journalists, or don't have a solid 
grasp of the issues, it's just that they lack passion. There's something 
drab and predictable about them; they feel like losers. (This reminds me 
of my Japanese friends in Tokyo at the peak of their economic miracle 

The New Activism (Fire in the Belly) 119 

circa 1970, scratching their heads in amazement when I showed them a 
picture of Jesus Christ on the cross. "This cannot be a god," they said. 
"He looks too much like a loser to be a god.") 

Each year Sonoma State University issues its list of the ten most 
censored stories of the year (the endeavor has spun off to Canada as 
well), but "Project Censored" is shouting into a void, and the list of 
censored stories it picks every year reads like yet another ideological 
wish list. The Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) system set up in 
universities by Ralph Nader's Raiders twenty-five years ago is still 
chugging along on the tired steam of its old agendas, but its bravest 
battles are behind it. Many of the Left's great inspirational voices — 
Lasch, Berger, Heilbroner, Galbraith — have died or are in extremis. The 
vacuum has been filled by tenured professors, TV pundits and self-pro- 
claimed champions of oppositional culture. I've had dealings with 
many of these people: They no longer pine for real change. For them 
fundamental change is just a Utopian dream, and if it suddenly hap- 
pened they wouldn't know what to do with it. They're content to give 
another speech at another symposium, or write yet another humorless 
article ridiculing the far Right. Left activists, even some of the best, 
have been reduced to the level of little kids throwing snowballs at pass- 
ing cars. 

Harper's editor Lewis Lapham is the quintessential liberal Lefty. 
Every month he passionately and often eloquently dissects the moral 
state of the union. But when Adbusters challenged him on the ethics of 
running tobacco advertisements in his own magazine, he steadfastly 
refused to be drawn into the debate. For years he stonewalled our let- 
ters, phone calls and entreaties, and played a cat-and-mouse game with 
us in the media. He couldn't face up to a moral indignity in his own 

The liberal Left has a way of co-opting every worthwhile cause. In 
the past few decades, it has hung its flag on the black movement, the 
women's movement and the environmental movement. It has muscled 
in on every major struggle and social protest of the past half century. 
But no longer are Lefties fighting the problem, they are the problem, 

The New Activism (Fire in the Belly) 121 

and if we're going to build an effective new social movement, we're 
going to have to work not with them but around them. 

The critical issues of our time are neither Left nor Right, neither male 
nor female, neither black nor white. The challenge for new millennium 
activists is to find the courage to let go of all their old orthodoxies, 
"isms" and sacred cows, and to commit to "a ruthless criticism of all 
that exists." And after that, the big challenge is to bring revolutionary 
consciousness and contestation back into the modern world by stand- 
ing up and boldly announcing to the world what Parisian rebels 
declared some thirty years ago: "We will wreck this world." 


A meme (rhymes with "dream") is a unit of information (a catchphrase, 
a concept, a tune, a notion of fashion, philosophy or politics) that leaps 
from brain to brain to brain. Memes compete with one another for 
replication, and are passed down through a population much the same 
way genes pass through a species. Potent memes can change minds, 
alter behavior, catalyze collective mindshifts and transform cultures. 
Which is why meme warfare has become the geopolitical battle of our 
information age. Whoever has the memes has the power. 

Activists can stage sit-ins, organize massive protests and stage 
mighty battles with riot police. But these events will at best flicker 
briefly on the evening news and be gone with no demonstrable change 
in the world. They are spectacles with radium half-lives. The real riots, 
the important ones that shift alliances, shake governments, win (or 
lose) elections and force corporations and industries to rethink their 
agendas, now take place inside your head. 

The next revolution — World War III — will be, as Marshall 
McLuhan predicted, "a guerrilla information war" fought not in the sky 
or on the streets, not in the forests or around international fishing 

124 Culture Jam 

boundaries on the high seas, but in newspapers and magazines, on the 
radio, on TV and in cyberspace. It will be a dirty, no-holds-barred pro- 
paganda war of competing worldviews and alternative visions of the 

We jammers can win this battle for ourselves and for Planet Earth. 
Here's how: 

We build our own meme factory, put out a better product and beat 
the corporations at their own game. We identify the macromemes and 
the metamemes — the core ideas without which a sustainable future is 
unthinkable — and deploy them. 

Here are five of the most potent metamemes currently in the cul- 
ture jammer's arsenal: 

True Cost: In the global marketplace of the future, the price of 
every product will tell the ecological truth. 

Demarketing: The marketing enterprise has now come full circle. 
The time has come to unsell the product and turn the incredible 
power of marketing against itself. 

The Doomsday Meme: The global economy is a doomsday 
machine that must be stopped and reprogrammed. 

No Corporate "I": Corporations are not legal "persons" with con- 
stitutional rights and freedoms of their own, but legal fictions that 
we ourselves created and must therefore control. 

Media Carta: Every human being has the "right to communi- 
cate" — to receive and impart information through any media. 

What would happen if even 10 percent of North Americans came 
to believe in and support even one of these ideas? Life would change. 
The ready-for-prime-time metameme — the big paradigm-busting idea 
that suddenly captures the public imagination and becomes a super- 
spectacle in itself — is the meme-warfare equivalent of a nuclear bomb. 
It causes cognitive dissonance of the highest order. It jolts people out of 

The Meme Wars 125 

their habitual patterns and nudges society in brave new directions. 

The last time social activists ventured wholesale into TV, they won 
a magnificent victory. I'm talking about the tobacco war, which history 
will record as having begun in the 1960s and having ended around the 
turn of the millennium, with the tobacco giants finally rolling over. The 
tobacco war marked the first (and so far the last) time anti-ads beat 
product ads in open meme combat in a free marketplace of ideas. 

Here was a multibillion-dollar industry butting heads with the 
fledgling antitobacco lobby. In 1969, the antitobacco crusaders, through 
persistent efforts and relentless pressure, managed to secure airtime for 
their antismoking ads, which ran against the cigarette ads that were 
then still legal on TV. 

I remember those ads vividly — the superclose-ups of the glowing 
tips of cigarettes, the X rays of cruddy lungs. I remember Yul Brynner, 
whose last creative act in the world, after a slow disintegration from 
lung cancer, was to come on TV just months from death, look the world 
squarely in the.eye and say, "Whatever you do, don't smoke." That meme 
forged the link between cigarettes and death. Everybody watching knew 
it was the truth. Those anti-ads helped me and millions of others to quit 
smoking. More significantly, they demonstrated that even a multibil- 
lion-dollar cartel can be beaten in a free marketplace of ideas. 

The antismoking meme crushed the smoking meme. Even with all 
its financial might, the tobacco industry was simply unable to compete 
because it lost its psychological stranglehold on the public mind. It lost 
its magic. Smoking was uncooled, and no amount of PR money could 
buy the cool back. In 1971, the tobacco companies "voluntarily" 
accepted a federal ban on TV and radio cigarette advertising, and their 
ads have not appeared in those media since. 

For the antismoking lobby — early culture jammers — beating the 
enemy on TV was the key. The victory initiated the great social turn- 
around of the next twenty years, with smokers in increasing numbers 
being driven out of the temple. 

Today a new generation of jammers is inspired by that victory. If 
the mighty tobacco industry was vulnerable to calculated, well-researched, 

A woman's hand sensually 
caresses a shiny new car. 

Suddenly, the car morphs into 
an Autosaurus, a terrifying 
robotic dinosaur, made of 
hulks of old cars. 

Voice: "It's coming, it's coming ■ 
the most significant event in 
automotive history , , . 
the end of the age of the 

The Autosaurus screeches and 
collapses into a heap. 


"Imagine a world with less cars." 

The Meme Wars 127 

tactical assaults by TV activists, then surely such subversive efforts can 
be repeated with success on other dysfunctional industries. 

Jammers are now mobilizing to repeat the tobacco story in many 
other areas of life. We're going to take on the global automakers, the 
chemical companies, the food industries, the fashion corporations and 
the pop-culture marketeers in a free-information environment. We 
believe we can launch a new brand and beat America™ in a meme war. 
We're better organized and much smarter than we were twenty-five 
years ago. I like our odds. 

We will take on the 
archetypal mind polluters 
and heat them at their 
own game. 

We will unoool their 
billion-dollar brands 
with uncommercials 
on TV, subvertisements 
in magazines and anti-ads 
right next to theirs in 
the urban landscape. 

We will seize control of 
the roles and functions 
that corporations play 
in our lives and set new 
agendas in their industries. 

We will jam the pop-culture 
marketeers and bring their 
image factory to a sudden, 
shuddering halt. 

On the rubble of the old 
culture, we will build a new 
one with a non-commercial 
heart and soul. 


Next time you're in a particularly soul-searching mood, ask yourself this 
simple question: What would it take for me to make a spontaneous, 
radical gesture in support of something I believe in? Do I believe in any- 
thing strongly enough? What would it take for me to say, This may not 
be nice, it may not be considerate, it may not even be rational — but 
damn it, I'm going to do it anyway because it feels right? I'm going to 
take this pair of scissors and cut my credit card in half. I'm going to take 
this little doll I've bought out of its huge box, right here at Toys "R" Us, 
and leave the wasteful packaging on the counter. Next time I'm caught 
standing in a long line at the bank, I'm going to shout cheerfully: "Hey, 
how about opening another teller!" 

Direct action is a proclamation of personal independence. It hap- 
pens, for the first time, at the intersection of your self-consciousness 
and your tolerance for being screwed over. You act. You thrust yourself 
forward and intervene. And then you hang loose and deal with whatever 
comes. In that moment of decision, in that leap into the unknown, you 
come to life. Your interior world is suddenly vivid. You're like a cat on 
the prowl: alive, alert and still a little wild. 

130 Culture Jam 

It's fun to wrestle with titans. It's exhilarating to throw a megacor- 
poration like McDonald's or Nike or Calvin Klein to the mat with the 
awesome momentum of its own icons and marketing hype — leveraging 
the very brand recognition the company so painstakingly built over the 
years. It's a fascinating exercise to take on a cartel like the global 
automakers and try to make it question its mandate. It's empowering to 
try to force a whole academic discipline like neoclassical economics to 
rethink its axioms. 

In any such fight the underdog is perfectly positioned to take risks 
and test theories. Culture jammers are continually trying out new 
strategic ploys in the meme wars. Here are a few we've found so far. 

Leverage Points 

Almost every social problem, no matter how seemingly intractable, can 
be solved with enough time, scrutiny and effort. There's always some lit- 
tle fissure you can squeeze a crowbar into and heave. That's the leverage 
point. When pressure is applied there, memes start replicating, minds 
start changing and, in time, the whole culture moves. 

There's a story often told by systems analysts — including Donella 
Meadows, coauthor of Limits to Growth — to illustrate how a little action 
at a system's leverage point can make all the difference in the world. The 
manager of a housing co-op was growing increasingly frustrated with 
her tenants. No matter how much she reminded and badgered them, no 
matter how many meetings she convened, no matter how much good- 
will there was for the task, the tenants would not, could not reduce their 
energy consumption. Finally she hit on an idea. What would happen, 
she wondered, if the electricity meters were moved from the basement 
to a conspicuous spot right beside the front door, so that each time the 
tenants left or entered their home they could see how fast their meter 
was whirring? 

The meters were moved. Lo and behold, within a few weeks elec- 
tricity consumption fell 30 percent. 

This tale inspires culture jammers because it reminds us of what 

The Meme Warrior 131 

our movement is all about: finding that leverage point. Something is 
wrong; it can be fixed, but the fix requires seeing the situation in a novel 
way. "It's not a parameter adjustment, not a strengthening or weakening 
of an existing loop," says Meadows. "It's a new loop delivering feedback 
to a place where it wasn't going before." 

How do you get society to make do with fewer cars? You can 
encourage people to make bicycles a bigger part of their lives. You can 
organize "Bike to Work" weeks. You can pay employers to subsidize 
commuters who pedal in from the suburbs. All of these things will cer- 
tainly help. But the leverage point may turn out to be an idea that 
uncools one of the core rituals of car culture — the Indy 500. We 
uncooled beauty pageants, why not Indy races? Both are relics of a 
bygone era. 

Other examples abound. When citizens are in the grip of fashion 
chic, you can "skull" fashion billboards, you can organize national 
"Fashin' Bashin' Weeks," you can point people toward thrift stores. But 
if you concentrate your energies on one fashion mogul — I suggest 
Calvin Klein — and try to uncool his line and logo, then you may have 
found a way to leverage the whole industry. An activist-induced drop in 
cK sales of even a few percent would signal that the tables have turned. 

Leverage points are easier to find if you brainstorm and are ready 
to act on a grand scale. Why not go head to head with the junk-food 
industry on TV? Why not take legal action against TV broadcasters who 
won't sell you airtime? Why not take your case to the World Court? Why 
not try to launch a global media reform movement? Why not try to 
revoke Philip Morris's corporate charter? 

D etou rnement 

Corporations advertise. Culture jammers subveitise. A well-produced 
print "subvertisement" mimics the look and feel of the target ad, 
prompting the classic double take as viewers realize what they're seeing 
is in fact the very opposite of what they expected. Subvertising is potent 
mustard. It cuts through the hype and glitz of our mediated reality 

132 Culture Jam 

and momentarily, tantalizingly, reveals the hollow spectacle within. 

Suppose you don't have the money to launch a real print ad cam- 
paign. What you can do is mimic the million-dollar look and feel of 
your opponent's campaign, thereby detourning their own carefully 
worked out, button-pushing memes in your favor. They spend millions 
building their corporate cool, and you keep stealing their electricity. 


The Internet is one of the most potent meme-replicating mediums ever 
invented. With cyberspace growing at about the rate of an infant — dou- 
bling in size every ten months — and with users always looking to pass 
on a scoop, good memes reproduce furiously. In 1997, Buy Nothing Day 
grew from a relatively small counterculture event in the Pacific North- 
west to one of the biggest outbursts of anticonsumer sentiment the 
world has ever seen. Anyone with a PC and a modem could go to the 
Media Foundation's website (, download a Buy 
Nothing Day poster and a T-shirt template, and view quicktime ver- 
sions of the Buy Nothing Day TV campaign. And hundreds of thou- 
sands did. 

Cyberjamming is evolving at a dizzying pace. Here are a few inter- 
esting techniques in use at the time of this writing: 


Don't wear out your shoes trying to collect hard-copy signatures in per- 
son. Instead, use the Internet to gain immediate access to millions of 
like-minded souls to consider your proposal, sign your petition and e- 
mail it back to you. 

Virtual Protests 

Link people who visit your website directly to the site of your quarry (be 
it Monsanto, McDonald's, Philip Morris or NBC), where they can find 
creative ways to lodge a protest. 

The Meme Warrior 133 
Virtual Sit-ins 

Immobilize an enemy site by organizing a few dozen cyberjammers 
simultaneously to request more texts, pictures, animations and multi- 
media elements than the site can handle. 

Gripe Sites 

Create and maintain a site dedicated to uncooling one particular corpo- 
ration or brand. 

TV Jamming 

A fifteen-, thirty- or sixty-second TV spot created by a team of passion- 
ate filmmakers is, I believe, the most powerful of all the weapons in the 
culture jammer's arsenal. I sometimes call a well-conceived and 
-produced social marketing TV message a "mindbomb" because of how 
it explodes in the collective psyche, sending out shock waves of cogni- 
tive dissonance. An effective TV subvertisement (or uncommercial) is 
so unlike what surrounds it on the commercial-TV mindscape that it 
immediately grabs the attention of viewers. It breaks their media- 
consumer trance and momentarily challenges their whole world out- 
look. It's guerrilla meme warfare on the most powerful social 
communications medium of our time. It can catch whole industries by 
surprise, trigger government policy reviews, derail legislation, launch 
new political initiatives. A thirty-second TV campaign is a legitimate 
way for a private citizen or activist group to challenge government, cor- 
porate and industrial agendas. And the idea that you have the right to do 
that in a democracy is utterly empowering. 

Hundreds of protesters in front of a McDonald's may or may not 
make the local evening news, but a relatively modest national TV cam- 
paign (for example, twelve spots costing $2,500 each on CNN's Head- 
line News), pointing out that a Big Mac contains over 50 percent fat, can 
strike to the heart of the fast-food industry. A cheeky anticar spot, aired 
repeatedly during international Indy and Nascar broadcasts, can begin 
to unnerve the global automakers. An uncommercial that fingers the 

134 Culture Jam 

global economy as a doomsday machine, aired during the weeks leading 
up to a G-7 summit meeting, can trigger a worldwide debate about 
unsustainable overconsumption by the affluent "First" nations of the 

Eventually, we will have access to the airwaves. We will have the 
"right to communicate" with each other in a free information environ- 
ment. In the meantime, TV jamming is still a win-win strategy: If you 
are able to buy time and get your ad aired, you win by delivering your 
message to hundreds of thousands of attentive viewers. If the networks 
refuse to sell you airtime, you publicize that fact. Now you have a news 
story (the media are always willing to expose a dirty little secret) that 
will prompt debate in your community about access to the public air- 
waves and perhaps draw more attention to your cause than if the net- 
works had simply sold you the airtime in the first place. 

The Industrial Pincer 

Squirming out from under a big, dysfunctional industry that's control- 
ling some aspect of our lives and setting new agendas in that industry 
requires more than just a hot TV spot and a little ad hoc anger. Breaking 
the auto industry's hold on our transportation and environmental poli- 
cies, or the food industry's hold on our nutritional agendas, or the fash- 
ion industry's hold on what constitutes attractiveness requires protracted 
meme warfare on many fronts over many years. The "pincer strategy" is 
a way to organize the forces. You apply it as follows: 

1. You attack the industry from above with hard-hitting media thrusts. 
You break its unchallenged run on television by airing dissenting ads. 
You run subverts and spoofs in magazines. You place anti-ads right 
next to their ads in the urban landscape. 

2. Simultaneously, you attack from below. You lobby at the grassroots 
level. You contact citizens' groups (cyclists, vegans, women's groups, 
Christians against TV violence, Green entrepreneurs) and catalyze 

The Meme Warrior 135 

actions (anticar rallies, street parties, stickering campaigns, Fashin' 
Bashin' Weeks, cyberpetitions) calculated to attract press and TV cov- 

3. You apply the pincer to the industry and don't let up for at least two 

A well-organized pincer will get millions of people thinking about 
their lives — about eating better, driving less, jumping off the fashion 
treadmill, downshifting. Eventually, the national mood will evolve. 
Single-occupant commuters will begin to resemble the smokers of 
today — outsiders, even villains. People scarfing a Big Mac, Coke and 
fries for lunch will feel a little guilty, a little sick, a little stupid. Teenagers 
wearing Nike caps and Calvin Klein jeans won't feel so trendy anymore. 

That's when these industries will change. That's when the global 
automakers will suddenly realize there's no future in single-occupant 
commuting. When McDonald's stops trying to sell another generation 
on a deep-fried, high-fat diet. When the beauty myth loses its hold. 
That's when the corporate cool machine suddenly starts spluttering, 
and, in a great surge of self-determination, we the people stand up and 
reclaim our culture. 

In my more melodramatic moments over the last ten years, I have 
let myself imagine the culture-jamming crusade building to a single, 
almost solemn moment of reckoning, like the scene in Shakespeare's 
Henry V where the king summons his troops before the battle of Agin- 
court and delivers the gut-check talk: 

And gentlemen in England now a-bed 
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here 
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. 

It's not inconceivable that the culture-jamming movement will be 
remembered by our grandchildren for having been one of the catalysts 

136 Culture Jam 

of the great planetary transformation that shook the world in the early 
years of the new millennium. By that time, the neoclassical-economics 
spell will have been broken, and the fight to wrest sovereign power from 
corporations will be largely won. The freedom and cultural empower- 
ment our grandkids enjoy will be the one we fought for, and won. 
"What did you do?" they will ask us. "Were you there when Philip Mor- 
ris Inc. bit the dust? When the True-Cost Party of America won the elec- 
tion? When the 'right to communicate' was enshrined in the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights?" 

And then, like King Henry, we will strip our sleeves and show our 



Rage — call it wrath, if you like, or righteous anger — is good. When it 
wells up suddenly from deep inside you, it's immediate, compelling, 
real. It's the only emotion strong enough to start a war or (think Viet- 
nam protests) stop one. When it springs from personal frustration, rage 
brings about low-level justice. It gets the boiler in your building fixed, 
the loud upstairs neighbor evicted, the reckless driver fined, your delin- 
quent teenage daughter grounded. When it springs from a sense of 
moral affront, it brings profound change. It stops cosmetics testing on 
animals, toughens juvenile crime laws, improves working conditions on 
factory floors and topples governments. 
Rage drives revolutions. 

It used to be easier to work up a good rage. It used to be easy to fig- 
ure out whom you were raging at, even if that was everyone and every- 
thing. ("What're you rebelling against?" they asked the young Marlon 
Brando. "Whadd'ya got?" he replied.) These days there are fewer obvi- 
ous lightning rods for rage, fewer out-and-out villains. The people 
you're most inclined to get roaring mad at — sales clerks, phone solici- 
tors, loan officers — are often just front-line agents in a corporate 

UO Culture Jam 

megasystem. It's the system, not its agents, that is the problem. Trying to 
get personal with a system is like trying to get personal with a broken 
toaster. You just end up feeling stupid, because your rage makes no dif- 
ference at all. 

The overarching "system" these days is consumer capitalism, 
which since World War II, Americans have understood to be the solu- 
tion to the country's woes, not the source of them. Capitalism has 
always been sold to us as our ticket to freedom, the antidote to the hell- 
ish bureaucracy of communism. But consumer capitalism — the society 
of spectacle — can be an even more insidious form of social control 
than communism, which is simply paternalism run amok. Commu- 
nism is blunt and obvious, like a blow with a club. Capitalism's con- 
sumer culture cannibalizes your spirit over time, it puts you to work as 
an obedient "slave component" of the system without your ever even 
knowing it. 

Imagine you're flaked out on the couch watching TV. You're very 
relaxed, the way a hypnotized patient is relaxed. Gradually, you feel your 
energy, or at least your desire to do anything but continue to watch, 
draining away. You are warm and insensate. But as drug experiences go, 
this is less than blissful. After a few hours you know something is wrong. 
You want to get up, but can't. You think you might be going crazy. 
Someone is doing this to you. Someone is sucking you dry. But who? 
The guy who owns the network (Michael Eisner)? The guy who dreams 
up this dreck (Aaron Spelling)? The doofus who delivers it (David Has- 
selhoff)? Or do you blame yourself? You're complicit — tuning in, keep- 
ing the numbers up, feeding the machine. What we have here is a kind 
of diffusion of responsibility. It's the same phenomenon that allows sol- 
diers in wartime to rationalize away any self-blame for the atrocities 
going on around them. Being a tiny gear in a vast engine of responsibil- 
ity gets you off the hook. If everyone's a villain — if we are all caught in 
the media-consumer trance — then no one is to blame. It's hard to gen- 
erate any good, focused anger in these circumstances, but it's very, very 
easy to get depressed. 

Bit by bit since the '50s, the spectacle has swallowed us up. We 

Rage 141 

don't trust the reality of our desires anymore. We've grown cynical and 
afraid. We've forgotten what it feels like to get angry — how to do rage. 
We listen to that ultraconservative part of our brain that says: Hold 
back, be reasonable, things aren't so bad. We've lost touch with our 
inner Peter Finch, the part of ourselves that throws open the window 
and screams into the street, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take 
it anymore!" Instead, we lie in front of our TVs like beaten dogs. We 
toady to corporations and wear their brand logos like serfs. We breathe 
bad air, drink foul water, lick corporate lollipops and never let out 
a peep. 

Why are we so docile and obedient? Is it because there's just not as 
much to fight for? Hardly. There has never been more at stake. The fate 
of the planet hangs in the balance. Never in human history has so much 
defiance been needed from so many. But for some strange reason we 
deny our anger and sit tight. 

Postmodern cynicism is rage that can no longer get it up. It is pow- 
erlessness, disconnection and shame. It's the loneliest kind of rage there 
is, different from the kinds of rage we've known in the past, which were 
born of injustice and nurtured by a clearly identifiable enemy. Post- 
modern rage is a volatile mix of strong feelings long suppressed: one 
part "eco-rage," an appalled disbelief at the way human beings are 
blithely destroying the natural world, and one part a profound, 
information-age anger I call "psycho-rage." You may not have had a 
name for this particular emotion until now, but you know if you have it. 
You're bored, yet anxious. Your moods soar and dive. Barely control- 
lable anger wells up without warning out of nowhere. 

Psycho-rage spikes when you realize you're trapped in a carnival of 
staged events: corporate America's idea of fun. It intensifies with every 
hour you spend in front of the TV watching the endless parade of dra- 
matized home invasions, boxing bouts, space-shuttle launches, election 
debates, stock-market analyses, celebrity gossip and genocidal wars — 
interrupted every few minutes by ads for cars and cosmetics and holi- 
days in Hawaii. It reaches a crescendo as you realize (too late) that ever 
since you were a baby crawling around that TV set, you've been propa- 



The camera moves slowly toward 
a young man watching TV in his 
living room. 


"Your living room 
is the factory . . . 

. . . the product being 
manufactured is you." 


Rage 143 

gandized and suckered, your neurons pickled in erotica, violence and 
marketing hype. You have become less than what you once were. The 
forces of nurture and genetics that make you a unique human being 
have met equal and opposing forces trying to reduce you to an obedient 
consumer. You have joined the North American consumer cult of the 
insatiables. In Buddhist terminology, you have become a "hungry 
ghost," with an enormous belly and pinhole-size mouth. And you will 
never be truly "full" again. 

The strange thing is, you don't really mind. In fact, on some level, 
you're happy as a clam. You find yourself actually enjoying the ride, 
savoring the spectacle. Your daily dose of circus sound-and-light dis- 
solves under your tongue. You can't stop watching as the bombs land on 
Baghdad. Your tears flow freely for Princess Di. You can't get enough 
news about President Clinton's escapades. You press the remote and the 
show goes on. 

Once in a while, in a flash of insight, you understand that some- 
thing is terribly, terribly wrong with your life, and that a rude and bar- 
ren future awaits unless you leap up off the couch right now. 

Then the moment passes. Your opening came and you didn't move. 
You couldn't muster the clarity of mind to figure out what to do, let 
alone the energy to do it. 

And so your rage remains underground. 

Rage is a signal like pain or lust. If you learn to trust it and ride 
shotgun on it, watching it without suppressing it, you gain power and 
lose cynicism. "Lying is the major form of human stress," the American 
psychologist Brad Blanton once said, and to the extent that failure to 
acknowledge your rage is really just lying to yourself, then jamming a 
coin into a monopoly newspaper box or liberating a billboard in the 
middle of the night can be a rather honest and joyful thing to do. 

There's an anger, a rage-driven defiance, that is healthy, ethical and 
empowering. It contains the conviction that change is possible — both for 
you and for your antagonist. Learning how to jam our culture with this 
rage may be one of the few ways left to feel truly among the quick in the 
Huxleyan mindscape of new millennium capitalism. 


(An Assertiveness Training Workshop for Culture Jammers) 

Think of the history of the United States as a play in four acts. In the 
first act, America is a puppet nation, its early settlers controlled from 
afar by their British masters. In the second act, the Americans rise up. A 
great revolution brings power to the people and they set up a new, more 
democratic way of governing themselves that inspires the world. In the 
long and tragic third act, now in its dramatic finale, America is stricken 
with consumption and begins to die. Overwhelmed by corporate spec- 
tacle and power, the once proud democracy devolves into a corporate 
state. The people grow decadent and forget how to be free. 

Now the fourth act is about to begin. It is an act of reversal, 
recovery, redemption. The American people experience a great awak- 
ening. Systematically, they undertake to dismantle their corporate 
state and recover the sovereignty that has been lost over the last cen- 
tury. "Sovereign people do not beg of, or negotiate with subordinate 
entities which we created — sovereign people instruct subordinate 
entities," says Richard Grossman, codirector of the Program on Cor- 

146 Culture Jam 

porations, Law and Democracy, one of the architects of this grand 
new shift. "When a subordinate entity violates the terms of its cre- 
ation, and undermines our ability to govern ourselves, we are required 
to move in swiftly and accountably to cut this cancer out of the body 

Act Four of the story of America is about breaking the media- 
consumer trance. It's about taking the ™ out of America™. It's about 
putting corporations back in the box and revoking many of the consti- 
tutional rights we have granted them over the past two hundred years. 
It's about calling these subordinate entities to heel. 

The goal of this workshop is to spark a dramatic personal mind- 
shift that will change the way you relate to corporations. Once you've 
experienced this shift, you'll feel ashamed for having been so docile and 
subservient for so long. Your days will be charged with a new sense of 
autonomy and mission. You'll derive immense pleasure from tussling 
with corporations, putting them in their place. You'll train yourself to 
always take the position of power, to be mindful of the fact that you are 
a human being and the corporation is merely a legal construct your 
species thought up. 

By the end of this section, you'll have developed skills to take 
back the freedom and dignity that are rightfully yours. The mindshift 
will happen gradually. Corporate agendas are so deeply woven into 
our lives that it's hard to see them, much less jam them (we take cor- 
porate power and privilege for granted in the same way the power and 
privilege of royalty were taken for granted a hundred years ago). It's a 
slow detox. 

You will begin with simple acts of resistance, but in the end you 
will change utterly the way you see your place in consumer culture. 

In each of the following scenarios, you have two broad options: 
You can roll over and squeal like a pig — i.e., act the way corporations 
want you to act — or you can seize control of the situation — detourn 
it — and start acting like an empowered sovereign citizen. But as we will 
see, there are degrees of sovereignty. Some paths to freedom are more 
direct than others. 

The Second American Revolution 147 

Drop Your Facade of Politeness 

The telephone company sends you your monthly statement. You see it 
has made a mistake and overcharged you. You call and explain your 
problem to an operator. "OK, no problem, we can fix this," she says. 
"Please mail or fax the bill back to us with a little note explaining the 
problem, and we'll take care of it." 

You can do as she asks. That's what most people do. It avoids a lot 
of trouble and lets you get on with your day. It also means following an 
arrogant corporate procedure designed to save them time and money at 
your expense. 

Here's the sovereign path. Drop your facade of politeness and say, 
"Listen, this is your mistake, so instead of me sending the bill back to 
you, why don't you send me a new bill with the adjusted amount and 
then I'll pay it." Insist on your procedure, and be prepared to immedi- 
ately switch servers if she refuses to go along. 

In a similar vein, I know a woman who, whenever she receives an 
unsolicited fax on her home fax line, replies by faxing back a jet-black 
sheet of paper (which drains the memory and the toner of the machine 
at the other end). She leaves only a tiny window of white that contains 
this message: "Don't fax me at home again." 

Learn to Detourn 

It's Monday evening. The phone rings. On the line is a woman who 
works for a major insurance company. Would you be interested in 
receiving information about the term life plan which she understands, 
by her records, may suit you, given your lifestyle and income level? She 
is quite aggressive and clearly reading off a card. 

Here your options are limited only by your imagination and mood 
of the moment. You can listen to her spiel and then politely say no. Or 
you can take the easy way out and lie ("We already have life insurance" 
or, "I'm sorry, there's no one here by that name"). Or you can get real. 
"All right, I'll talk to you," you might say, "but only if you stop reading 

148 Culture Jam 

from that card and start speaking to me like a human being." If you're 
feeling sparky, you could engage her in a conversation about why she 
took this telemarketing job in the first place and try to talk her into 
changing jobs. Or you can tell her, truthfully, that you're busy right now, 
but if you can have her home phone number you'll call her back 
tonight. (When she refuses, simply say: "You called me at home, so why 
can't I call you at home?") Or you can turn the tables on her by saying: 
"OK, before we go any further you should know that I bill my time out 
at twenty dollars an hour, with a fifteen-minute minimum, so if you 
want to talk to me, it's going to cost your company at least five dollars. 
The meter's running. It's your decision." That's a nifty detournement. 
Once enough people start detourning corporate telemarketing thrusts 
like that, it won't be so cost-effective for them to keep badgering us in 
our homes. 

Clear a Path for Others 

One of your checks bounces. You're sure you had enough in the account 
to cover it. You call up your local bank branch, the one you've been deal- 
ing with for twenty years, to find out what happened. This time your 
call is rerouted to a new 1-800 headquarters at the other end of the 
country. You ask to speak to someone you know in your local branch. 
Sorry, not possible, the operator says: All inquiries are now handled 
from this new office — a cost-cutting move. But this new office doesn't 
have a history with you, you argue. As of now, the operator tells you, 
your history begins anew. 

Again, you can take the "easy" route and just deal politely with this 
new person. It would mean caving in, but you're not in the mood for an 
argument and besides, how can you ever win a fight with a bank? 

Consider the cost, though, of not taking this bank on. Every time 
you capitulate to a corporation, you're letting down everyone who fol- 
lows you on the path. If you fail to take out a bully or reprogram a bully, 
the bully is free to bully again. 

It's the little daily capitulations we unthinkingly allow, the lumps 

The Second American Revolution 149 

we swallow without comment, that have landed us in the sorry state of 
subservience we're in. Every time we lump it we lose a little of our free- 
dom and dignity. A lot of people who habitually give up often say, "Hey, 
it's not my battle." Or, "What possible difference can I make?" It's this 
attitude that allows corporations to gain the upper hand in any policy 
or procedure they decide to foist upon us. The real lesson here is that no 
fight is too small. Little capitulations inevitably lead to bigger ones, 
while little victories lead to greater triumphs. 

The way we handle daily aggravations places us on a continuum of 
commitment. At one end of the continuum are little tussles on the 
phone and in the bank, and at the other end are critical choices about 
genetic engineering, trade rules and global warming. How we respond 
personally to the small things determines to a great extent how we 
respond collectively to the big things. Our everyday life is where the 
revolution unfolds. That's where the real guerrilla actions take place, 
and where Marshall McLuhan's World War III will eventually be won 
or lost. 

Learn to Confront 

You're recruited by the university hockey team and discover that every- 
one on the squad is required to wear a jersey with a big swoosh on the 
front. The uniform is mandatory. This is a "Nike" university (meaning 
Nike has forked over a lot of money and gear in return for blanket alle- 
giance on campus). 

Of course, it's easiest just to wear the damn swoosh and play. The 
option at the other extreme is to have a blowup with the coach and quit 
the team in protest. 

But here's the jammer's jig. You have a little private chat with each 
one of your teammates, and then call a meeting. Argue that it's degrad- 
ing for hockey players to be reduced to human billboards. Then up the 
ante. Paste posters. Write a story for the campus newspaper. Talk on 
campus radio. Pull off a wild, attention-grabbing prank. Then demand 
an audience with the university dean and faculty heads to explain your 

150 Culture Jam 

position. Tell them there will be hell to pay if they don't stop mixing 
education with marketing. 

By getting in the face of corporate America in this way, you're not 
just being confrontational, you're demarketing your life, creating your 
own choices and learning a whole new strategy of self-reliance. Bit by bit, 
you wean yourself off name brands, switch your bank account to the 
local credit union, buy what you need at locally owned stores, supple- 
ment the news you usually get with alternative sources. You learn to 
reward the good with your dollars and your time, and punish the bad by 
refusing to buy in. You develop new habits and routines, a new attitude 
that becomes engrained. You never allow a corporate rep who says "I'm 
sorry, but that's company policy, sir" off the hook. Instead, you confront 
her and wrestle her down on the spot. If she hangs tough, you ask to see 
her boss. If he hangs tough, you go over his head. You take names, make 
notes, stay cool. You never let a corporation forget who is serving whom. 

Corporations have a lot of experience with (and a "procedure" for) 
dealing with troublemakers like you. Decide in advance how much 
you're prepared to risk. Don't pick a fight if you don't have the time to 
see it through. Preplan confrontations. Decide how far you're willing to 
go and what your final move will be if your ride up the company hierar- 
chy hits a dead end. Are you ready to close your account at the bank? 
Cancel an order? Create a public scene? Engage in civil disobedience? 
Take legal action? Or will you settle for an appointment with the man- 
ager next week? 

As you make more and more committed choices, you will feel 
more alive, free, real. Bit by bit, you'll also start winning more tussles 
than you lose, and you'll discover the joy of jamming: that great, exhila- 
rating power for change that every human being has. 

Reframe Debates 

You've decided to take the step from personal to collective action. Dis- 
gusted with ongoing fast-food imperialism, you decide to join a side- 
walk protest at the local McDonald's. 


Did you know that every product pictured here is owned by Philip Morris, the world's 
largest cigarette company? Chances are you've been helping to promote Marlboro 
cigarettes without even knowing it. Now you can withdraw that support by personally 
boycotting these products. It's like giving money to a health organization that's working 
to find a cure for cancer — but in this case, you're taking money away from a corporation 
that causes it. So next time you're at the supermarket-try it. You'll like it. 

152 Culture Jam 

Normally, these kinds of events follow a standard script. Protesters 
distribute leaflets critical of the way the corporation promotes poor 
nutrition and scalps the South American rain forest for pastureland. 
The whole protest ritual is preframed. On one side is McDonald's, the 
established and popular multibillion-dollar enterprise. On the other 
side is a bunch of scruffy, long-haired reactionaries with their tired, 
Lefty grievances. The protest leaders deliberately defy the police and are 
arrested. Reporters show up and get a few angry quotes. A news story 
finds its way into the city section of the local paper or maybe makes the 
evening news. But nothing changes. McDonald's continues to open as 
many new outlets as it wants, continues to hook kids via Saturday 
morning cartoons, continues to spend a billion and a half dollars a year 
worldwide on advertising, and continues in large part to set the planet's 
nutritional agenda. 

You could propose another way to organize your protest. This 
time, your group walks around the restaurant in an orderly fashion. You 
don't encroach on McDonald's private property. The police have no 
legal reason to arrest you. 

When a reporter asks, "What are you protesting against, exactly?" 
you answer: "Please, let's get something straight right off the top. We're 
not protesters. We're citizens of this city concerned about the way 
McDonald's is marketing fast food to our children. We want to have some 
say in how many fast-food restaurants there are in our neighborhoods 
and what license fees they should be paying to city hall for that privilege." 

Wow! Suddenly, the issue is reframed. Suddenly, this isn't a bunch 
of anti-McDonald's protesters; it's a group of citizens asserting their 
right to decide what happens in their city. The citizens are once again 
the natives, the landowners, the original settlers, and it's their rights that 
are being infringed on, not the corporation's. 

The reporter who had practically written her story in advance 
(" . . . insert inflammatory quote from protester here . . . ") now has that 
word "protester" yanked out from under her. She will write her piece dif- 
ferently now. Her ritual has been interrupted because a smart jammer 
reframed the debate. 

The Second American Revolution 153 

And the next day a citizen will read the paper and say, "Yes, that 
makes sense to me. There are too many fast-food joints around here. I like 
the idea of regulating how many of them can operate in my neighbor- 
hood. And fast-food franchises like McDonald's should pay bigger license 
fees to city hall. Maybe we should charge them fifty thousand dollars per 
year, or even more. We should be able to do that if we want to. It's our 
neighborhood. It's our city. And now that I think about it, maybe we don't 
need so much fast-food advertising on kids' TV shows either." 

Refraining an issue is as simple as figuring out what the core issues 
are. Gandhi redefined the conflict in colonial India. "The function of a 
civil resistance is to provoke response," he told his people, "and we will 
continue to provoke until they respond or they change the law." The 
strength of refraining in this way was that "the resisters" became the 
active agents and the British government became the reactive agents. 
The power dynamic was inverted. From then on it was the resisters who 
set the agenda. 

Maintain Your Sovereignty 

In the Pacific Northwest, a handful of forestry giants, granted power to 
"manage" the resource, have a long history of committing all manner of 
ecological crimes, from cutting at unsustainable rates to clear-cutting in 
watersheds. Their legacy is a barren landscape of stumps and muddy, 
dying salmon streams. 

For more than twenty years the environmental lobby has fought 
back. Groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Western Canada 
Wilderness Committee have issued thousands of press releases detailing 
the various harms the forest companies have done. Ecoguides have 
taken thousands of visitors to see the ancient virgin forests (making 
them aware, in the most personal way, of what's at stake in the woods). 
Volunteers have built boardwalks under the forests' cathedrallike 
canopies. Over the years, hundreds of passionate protesters have been 
arrested for blocking logging roads or chaining themselves to the log- 
gers' equipment. 

154 Culture Jam 

Environmentalists have won many concessions. Tracts of rain for- 
est have been spared by government edict. Parks have been created. 
Clear-cutting practices have been changed. 

Yet the fundamental problems remain. The forest companies are 
still cutting above sustainable levels, still trashing the salmon runs, still 
leaving a bunch of mismanaged tree farms for future generations to 
deal with. And when the protests get too heavy, when the business cli- 
mate is no longer conducive, when the lucrative old-growth forests are 
gone, the logging companies will move their operations to Indonesia or 
Brazil or some other place where the pickings are better. 

"How much harm does a company have to do before we question 
its right to exist?" asked the author of The Ecology of Commerce, Paul 
Hawken. With that question, he reframed the whole corporate debate. 
Try it; it's empowering. Instead of contesting the harms one by one, 
instead of asking the logging company to stop doing bad things here 
and here and here, start questioning their legitimacy, their legal right to 
continue conducting business in your state or province. 

Reframing an issue so that you, not a corporation, are the sovereign 
entity is a little like looking at those Gestalt drawings in psychology 
class: Is it a goblet or is it two faces nose to nose? Once the perceptual 
shift has occurred and you see the faces, the goblet disappears. 

To get an idea of what the shift feels like on an emotional level, 
think of your relationship with your father or mother. Recall the many 
little scraps you've had over the years. Then think back to that moment 
when, in some not-quite-precisely-defined way, the power dynamic 
suddenly changed. It probably happened when you were in your mid- 
teens. Maybe your father grounded you for a bit too long, or lectured 
you a bit too loudly, or otherwise went a bit too far in asserting his 
authority. And something inside you snapped. You looked into his eyes 
and instead of seeing strength, confidence and certitude, you suddenly 
saw insecurity, confusion and fear. For the first time in your life, you 
talked back at him, even if that meant storming out of the house and 
living somewhere else for a while, even if it meant reducing your mom 
to tears, even if it meant raising your fist. In the past all that would have 

The Second American Revolution 155 

been unthinkable, but the world had suddenly changed. That day, for 
the first time, you became your own person and nobody — not even 
your father — was going to push you around. 

A teenager's declaration of independence is one of the universal 
rites of passage. What the world needs now is a similar rite of tri- 
umphant passage for citizens in the corporate house. 

Fifty years ago, Alabama blacks sat in the backs of buses and at 
their own end of the lunch counter without thinking twice about it. 
Many women once believed they didn't deserve to vote. When I was a 
teenager, women were discouraged from driving a car because, hey, 
everyone knew they were terrible drivers. And many women believed it 
was true. They smiled and joked about it and let the men do the driving. 

Today, we're caught in the same kind of reflexive subservience to 
corporations. We think it's normal for them to have more rights than we 
do. We think it's proper for them to set the rules of doing business in 
our communities. We think it's legitimate for them to clear-cut ancient 
forests, influence elections, run our airwaves, take politicians on jaunts 
to the Bahamas and draft the world trade rules. 

But it isn't, and once you've reframed the issues of sovereignty, 
power and privilege, you'll wonder why you ever thought it was. 

Now, having completed this workshop and adjusted your personal 
mind-set, you may be ready to go to the next level — to actually tinker 
with the corporate genetic code. 


A corporation has no heart, no soul, no morals. It cannot feel pain. You 
cannot argue with it. That's because a corporation is not a living thing, 
but a process — an efficient way of generating revenue. It takes energy 
from outside (capital, labor, raw materials) and transforms it in various 
ways. In order to continue "living" it needs to meet only one condition: 
Its income must equal its expenditures over the long term. As long as it 
does that, it can exist indefinitely. 

When a corporation hurts people or damages the environment, it 
will feel no sorrow or remorse because it is intrinsically unable to do so. (It 
may sometimes apologize, but that's not remorse — that's public rela- 
tions.) Buddhist scholar David Loy, of Tokyo's Bunkyo University, put it 
this way: "A corporation cannot laugh or cry; it cannot enjoy the world or 
suffer with it. Most of all a corporation cannot love" That's because cor- 
porations are legal fictions. Their "bodies" are just judicial constructs, and 
that, according to Loy, is why they are so dangerous. "They are essentially 
ungrounded to the earth and its creatures, to the pleasures and responsi- 
bilities that derive from being manifestations of the earth." Corporations 
are in the most literal and chilling sense "dispassionate." 

158 Culture Jam 

We demonize corporations for their unwavering pursuit of 
growth, power and wealth. Yet, let's face it: They are simply carrying out 
genetic orders. That's exactly what corporations were designed — by 
us — to do. Trying to rehabilitate a corporation, urging it to behave 
responsibly, is a fool's game. The only way to change the behavior of a 
corporation is to recode it; rewrite its charter; reprogram it. 

When a corporation like General Electric, Exxon, Union Carbide 
or Philip Morris breaks the law, causes an environmental catastrophe or 
otherwise undermines the public interest, the usual result is that . . . 
nothing very much happens. The corporation may be forced to pay a 
fine, revamp its safety procedures, face a boycott. At worst — and this is 
very rare — it is forced into bankruptcy. The shareholders lose money 
and the employees lose their jobs. Usually, though, the shareholders 
move on to other investments, and company executives find work else- 
where. In fact, it's often the public and low-level employees who suffer 
the most when a corporation dies. 

What if there was another, more serious, potential outcome, one 
that would lay responsibility where it belongs? What if each shareholder 
was deemed personally responsible and liable for collateral damage to 
bystanders or harms to the environment? Why shouldn't it be so? If 
you're a shareholder, a part-owner of a corporation, and you reap the 
rewards when the going is good, why shouldn't you be held responsible 
for that company when it becomes criminally liable? 

If we rewrote the rules of incorporation so that every shareholder 
assumed partial liability, financial markets would immediately undergo 
dramatic change. Fewer shares would be traded. Instead of simply 
choosing the biggest cash cows, potential shareholders would carefully 
investigate the backgrounds of the companies they were about to sink 
their money into. They would think twice about buying shares in Philip 
Morris Inc. or R. J. Reynolds or Monsanto. Too risky. They would 
choose resource companies with good environmental records. They 
would stay away from multinationals that use child workers or break 
labor laws overseas. In other words, the shareholders would be 
grounded — forced to care and take responsibility. Stock markets would 

Grounding the Corporation 159 

cease to be gambling casinos. Our whole business culture would heave. 

We made an enormous mistake when we let shareholders off the 
legal-liability hook. But it's not too late to rectify that mistake. We, the 
people, created the corporate charter and the rules for buying stocks 
and shares, and now, we the people must change those rules. 

The same approach can be extended to corporate crime. When a 
human being commits a major crime — gets caught trafficking cocaine 
or robbing a store — society metes out harsh justice. The felon automat- 
ically loses his political rights (to vote and hold office) and if the crime 
is serious enough, he does hard time. When he gets out of jail he's 
marked for life. Employers won't hire him. People who know his back- 
ground won't trust him. He can't travel freely across borders. In some 
parts of America, if he commits three felonies, he's put away for life. 

Compare that to the worst that might happen to a corporation 
caught flagrantly breaking the law. The public is outraged. The CEO 
loses his job. There's a shake-up in the boardroom. The company faces a 
class-action suit and pays out a lot of money. But ... at the end of the 
day, the executives of a criminal corporation really don't have so much 
to worry about. Their chances of ending up in jail are next to zero. And 
the corporation itself loses none of its political or legal rights to con- 
tinue to do business, lobby Congress or participate in elections. In the 
end, the corporation hires a new CEO, settles the suit, launches a PR 
campaign to regain public confidence. This is often seen as just the price 
of doing business. That's why the executives of rogue corporations like 
Philip Morris can keep lying to us, hiding information and otherwise 
flouting the law with impunity year after year after year. There is no 
penalty they fear. 

We must find ways to instill that fear. We must enact tough new 
corporate criminal liability laws. Repeat offenders should be barred for 
a specified number of years from selling things to the government. They 
should be ineligible to hold government contracts and licenses for tele- 
vision stations. They should not be allowed to finance political cam- 
paigns or lobby Congress, and they should forfeit their legal rights just 
as individual criminals do. 

160 Culture Jam 

We must rewrite the rules of incorporation in such a way that any 
company caught repeatedly and willfully dumping toxic wastes; damag- 
ing watersheds; violating antipollution laws; harming employees, cus- 
tomers, or the people living near its factories; engaging in price fixing; 
defrauding its customers; or keeping vital information secret automat- 
ically has its charter revoked, its assets sold off and the money funneled 
into a superfund for its victims. 

There are precedents for this kind of action, though you have to go 
back a century to find them. In 1884, the people of New York City, citing 
a willful pattern of abuse, asked their attorney general to revoke the 
charter of the Standard Oil Trust of New York (they succeeded). The 
state of Pennsylvania revoked the charters of a number of banks that 
were found to be operating against the public interest. Michigan, Ohio 
and New York revoked the charters of oil, sugar and whiskey trusts. In 
1890, the highest court in New York State revoked the charter of the 
North River Sugar Refining Corporation with these words: "The judg- 
ment sought against the defendant is one of corporate death. The state, 
which created, asks us to destroy, and the penalty invoked represents the 
extreme rigor of the law. The life of a corporation is, indeed, less than 
that of the humblest citizen " 

Warnings about corporate consolidation have also come out of 
more recent court decisions. In 1976, U.S. Supreme Court Justices White, 
Brennan and Marshall noted that "the special status of corporations has 
placed them in a position to control a vast amount of economic power by 
which they may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but also 
the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process." 

Today, after one hundred years of inaction, corporate charters are 
once again being challenged. 

In May 1998, New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco revoked 
the charters of the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Insti- 
tute, on the grounds that they are tobacco-funded fronts that serve "as 
propaganda arms of the industry." 

In Alabama, the only state in the union where a private citizen can 
file a legal petition to dissolve a corporation, Judge William Wynn did 

Grounding the Corporation 161 
just that. In June 1998, acting as a private citizen (and comparing his 
actions to making a citizen's arrest), Wynn named five tobacco compa- 
nies that, he asserted, have broken state child-abuse laws and should be 
shut down. "The grease has been hot for a year now, and it's time to put 
the chicken in," he said. 

On September 10, 1998, in what maybe the largest corporate char- 
ter revocation effort in a century, thirty individuals and organizations 
(including the National Organization for Women, Rainforest Action 
Network and National Lawyers Guild) petitioned California Attorney 
General Dan Lungren to pull the plug on Unocal Corporation, which, 
they claim, engages in environmental devastation, unethical treatment 
of workers and gross human-rights violations. 

And on Tuesday, November 3, 1998, in the fiercely political univer- 
sity town of Areata, California, citizens, in the first ballot initiative of its 
kind in U.S. history, voted 3,139 to 2,056 to "ensure democratic control 
of all corporations conducting business within the city." Now, in town 
hall meetings and an ongoing citywide conversation, the people of 
Areata will decide what role they want corporations to play in their 

The 1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Supreme 
Court decision declared that corporations were "natural persons" under 
the U.S. Constitution. Suddenly, corporations "came to life" among us, 
and started enjoying the same rights and freedoms as we, the citizens 
who created them. One of the ultimate long-term strategies for jam- 
mers is to revisit that judgment, have it overturned, and ensure that the 
corporate "I" will never again rise up in our society. 

It will be a long and vicious battle for the soul of America and the 
outcome is far from clear. In the next century, will America evolve 
toward a radical democracy or an even more entrenched corporate 
state? Will more and more of the world economy be "centrally planned 
by global megacorporations"? Will we live and work on Planet Earth, or 
Planet Inc.? The only way to avoid this latter, nightmare scenario is for a 
few million Americans to start thinking and acting like empowered, 
sovereign citizens. 


To Revoke Philip Morris's Corporate Charter 
in the State of New York 

Dear Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer: 

We, the undersigned citizens of the United States 
and New York, who are sovereign over govern- 
ment and corporations, have the responsibility of 
keeping both these institutions subservient. 
In May of 1998, The Council for Tobacco Research 
USA Inc. and The Tobacco Institute Inc. were 
placed in receivership as a direct result of a peti- 
tion your predecessor Dennis Vacco initiated 
against these two groups for serving as "propa- 
ganda arms" of tobacco companies. 
Now we ask you to initiate similar 
proceedings against Philip Morris, Inc. 

According to New York State law, you, the attorney 
general, may bring an action for the dissolution of 
a corporation upon one or more of the following 

That the corporation has exceeded the author- 
ity conferred upon it by law, or has violated any 
provision of law whereby it has forfeited its char- 
ter, or carried on, conducted, or transacted its 
business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal 

For over 25 years Philip Morris, Inc., has trans- 
acted its business in a persistently fraudulent 
manner and therefore we the undersigned call 
upon you to commence proceedings to dissolve 
the corporate existence of Philip Morris, Inc. 


Please sign, photocopy and return this petition to the Media Foundation, 1243 W. 7th Ave, Vancouver, BC, V6H 1 B7, Canada. 
Or fax it to: 604-737-6021. Or find out more and sign the cyberpetition at <> 

Grounding the Corporation 163 

One way to jump-start this "second American revolution" is to 
make an example of one of the world's biggest corporate criminals — 
Philip Morris Inc. Launch a TV campaign that tells the horrifying truth 
about that company's long criminal record. Organize a massive boycott 
of its food products, collect a mind-addling number of petition signa- 
tures, keep applying the pressure and simply never let up until the attor- 
ney general of the state of New York revokes the company's charter. 


Marketing! selling society on 
an ever-expanding horizon of 
products and services. 

Social Marketings selling society 
on a new set of ideas, lifestyles, 
philosophies and worldviews. 

Hegamarketing: urging society to 
consume less electricity, 
gasoline, energy, materials. 

Demarketing; unselling the consumer 
society: turning the incredible 
power of marketing against itself. 


Midtown Manhattan, 1999: In the boardroom of a famous lifestyle 
magazine, a young editor leans forward, removes his Gauthier glasses 
and broaches a Big Idea. 

"Two words: 'Demarketing Chic' " 

By the expressions of his colleagues, he can tell he's halfway there. 
They like it. They may love it. 

"Here's the deal," he explains. "The world has gotten just unbeliev- 
ably commercial, right? And people are starting to go a little crazy from 
it. They've completely bought into it, and it's been a hell of a ride, but 
now they're reaching a saturation point. They think maybe they're get- 
ting to the end of this business of glitz and hype and Ya Gotta Have It. 
So we say, in effect, Yeah. Your instincts are right. For the first time in 
forever, marketing isn't cool. Excess isn't cool." 

He takes a slug of Pellegrino and continues. 

"We do a trend piece — not a think piece but more of a package. 
Four or five spreads. Maybe we devote a whole issue to it. We really sell 
the idea hard." 

"And we do that by ... " 

166 Culture Jam 

"By rounding up the least commercial people you can think of. 
People who stand in opposition to the whole idea of conspicuous con- 
sumerism. Anticonsumers. Icons of simplicity. We build the package 
around these people. We turn them into stars." 


"So, for example, the Quaker on the side of the oatmeal box. We 
find the actual Quaker who posed for that picture and we do a Q-and-A 

"The actual Quaker?" 

"Well, some actor who we say is the actual Quaker." 
"Okay, good. Who else?" 
"Sister Wendy." 
"The art-critic nun?" 

"Yeah. Very, very cool, in her way. We get her to hang out with Cy 
Twombly and Julian Schnabel. Just shoot the breeze with these guys. At 
Schnabel's place, by the pool." 


"The Dalai Lama — a very funny guy, apparently — headlining on 
amateur night at The Comedy Store in L.A." 

"Mother Teresa." 
"Too late. More." 

"'Those Crafty Amish' on The Learning Channel." 

"Ralph Nader in a Martha Stewart-style shoot at Walden Pond, in 
front of Thoreau's cabin." 

"Can we find Thoreau's old cabin?" 

"Doesn't matter. We'll build another. No one will know." 

Demarketing. The whole concept lends itself to satire, possibly because 
it seems so foreign to most of us. The word has a sinister ring to it. 
Whatever else demarketing is, it's certainly un-American. 

Advertising and marketing are so deeply embedded in our culture 
now that it's hard to imagine a time when product placement and net- 

Demarketing Loops 147 

work logo "burns" and "bugs" weren't everywhere you looked, when our 
lifestyles and culture weren't predicated on consumption. But that pre- 
marketing era was not so long ago: only two generations. Demarketing 
is about restoring a little of the sanity we enjoyed back then. It's about 
uncooling our consumer culture, reclaiming the real, recovering some 
of what has been lost since consumerism became the First World's new 

The other day, in a moment of guy-to-guy candor, a friend chal- 
lenged me on my demarketing philosophy and my whole outlook on 
life. "Kalle," he said, "you complain about advertising, you complain 
about the big, bad media, you bitch about how much we consume and 
how we govern ourselves and how corporations are ruining America. 
You say you want a radically different way of life — a revolution. But 
would you really want to live in the kind of world you're proposing?" 

I asked him to be more specific. 

"Isn't the live-fast, die-hard lifestyle you can't stand the very thing 
that makes it so much fun to be American? Living large is our inheri- 
tance. It's what we fought for and won. We have the highest standard of 
living in the world because we earned it. We did it by taking risks and 
being inventive and working our butts off. So now maybe I want to 
drive fast, and rattle the windows with my music, and have sex with my 
wife in our backyard swimming pool, and watch Monday Night Football 
while burgers grill on the barbecue. And I want to be able to do these 
things without having to listen to your sanctimonious objections." 

My friend had just returned from New York, which he sees as an 
exciting microcosm of America. "Sure it has problems. It's big, it's loud, 
it's congested, you can step on a dirty needle in Central Park and the cab 
driver may be too scared to take you to Harlem. But I'll bet if you asked 
most New Yorkers they'd tell you they wouldn't want to live anywhere 
else. If you sanitized New York, it wouldn't be New York. It'd be Balti- 
more. And if you sanitized America, it wouldn't be America. It'd be Swe- 
den or Canada. Life wouldn't be worth living." 

"You just don't get it," I told him. "I'm not trying to sanitize Amer- 
ica. The world I'm proposing isn't some watered-down, politically cor- 

168 Culture Jam 

rect place. It's wilder and more interesting than your world in every way. 
It's open TV airwaves where meme wars, not ratings wars, are fought 
every day. It's radical democracy — people telling governments and cor- 
porations what to do instead of the other way around. It's empowered 
citizens deciding for themselves what's 'cool' — not a society of con- 
sumer drones suckling at the corporate teat. It's living a life that's con- 
nected to the planet, knowing something about it, caring for it and 
handing it down to our children in some kind of decent shape. 

"What I'm saying is that the American dream isn't working any- 
more, so let's face that reality and start building a new one." 

I noticed my friend roll his eyes a couple of times as I spoke. In 
many ways he is the typical North American — ambitious, competitive, 
successful. If he could convince me that he really is happy and alive, I'd 
have to concede that his way, though it's not my way, is perfectly valid. 
But I just don't see it. The supersize American lifestyle generates at least 
a little guilt in every marginally thoughtful person who pursues it. 
There's a lot of dirty laundry in my friend's life that he can't ignore, no 
matter how far under the bed he shoves it. He sees me as a disgruntled 
Lefty pissing on the American parade; I see him as a man in upper- 
income-bracket denial, getting what he can while the going is good even 
as his world is collapsing around him. Of one thing I am sure: His 
hyperconsumptive lifestyle isn't cool anymore. The old American 
dream is dying. Change is coming. 

One of the great secrets of demarketing the American dream is 
detourning it, in the public imagination, with a dream that's even more 
seductive. What's better than being rich? Being spontaneous, authentic, 

The new American dream is simply to approach life full-on, with- 
out undue fear or crippling self-censorship, pursuing joy and novelty as 
if tomorrow you'll be in the ground. The Situationists called this 
impulse "the will to playful creation," and they believed it should be 
extended "to all known forms of human relationships." There's no one 
more alive than the person who is openly, freely improvising — which is 
why the best stand-up comics love hecklers, and why the best hosts love 

Demarketing Loops 169 
wild-card dinner guests, and why the most electric political figures love 
deviating from their prepared scripts on live TV. There's no other way to 
discover what's at your core. This is what the new American dream is all 
about, and this is the kind of person the culture jammer aspires to be: 
someone who, to paraphrase Ray Bradbury, "jumps off cliffs and builds 
his wings on the way down." 

Uncooling Consumption 

On the most basic level, demarketing is simply about not buying. An 
anticonsumerist lifestyle flat-out repudiates the whole idea of market- 
ing. When you don't buy, you don't buy in to consumer culture. When 
you don't buy in, corporations lose their hold on you. 

One increasingly visible group of people have embraced this idea 
as a faith. They have looked hard at the way we do things in this country 
and decided it's no longer their way. Somewhere between the time Faith 
Popcorn coined the term "cashing out" and the time actor Sherry 
Stringfield walked away from the TV show E.R. (to rediscover the true 
meaning of life, a.k.a. leisure time and her partner), the downshifting 
movement took off. Thousands of Americans now call their lifestyle 
"voluntary simplicity" (after Duane Elgin's 1981 book of the same 
name). Some of these downshifters left high-powered jobs and took 
drastic pay cuts in order to make more time for family, friends, commu- 
nity, meaningful work. Others were wage slaves who simply decided to 
improve what Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, in Your Money or Your 
Life, call their "joy-to-stuff ratio." Away with frantic living, they have 
declared. Away with the acquisitive, secular culture that causes even the 
most sensible souls to drift out of plumb. Too much work, too much 
clutter, too much distance between expectation and outcome, between 
investment and payoff, between head and heart will spell the end of us. 
The downshifters concluded that a higher goal than to amass wealth is 
to concentrate on culture as Alexander Solzhenitsyn defined it: "the 
development, enrichment and improvement of non-material life." They 
understand intuitively what statistics bear out: The aggregate level of 




"The average North American 
consumes five times more 
than a Mexican . , . 

... ten times more than a 
Chinese person and thirty times 
more than a person in India. 

We are the most voracious 
consumers in the world... 
a world that could die 
because of the way we 
North Americans live. 



no for By the rroda foundation 1-800-6&3-1 

Give it a rest. 
November ;6 is 
Buy Nothing Day." 

Demarketing Loops 171 

American life fulfillment peaked in 1957, and with a couple of brief 
exceptions, it's been downhill from there. 

We hear many dramatic downshifting stories: the eight-figure 
bond trader who, while getting his shoes shined, picks up a copy of The 
Tightwad Gazette or Living Green ("Live simply, that all may simply 
live"), has an epiphany, bails out of the modern contest and flees to the 
country to farm hogs or write murder mysteries. But this kind of down- 
shifter is hardly the norm. 

Many downshifters had no choice in the matter; they were canned, 
and that proved to be the best thing that ever happened to them. Alice 
Kline, whom Juliet Schor describes in The Overspent American, was a 
merchandising director for a high-fashion company. When she was 
wooed to return to lucrative full-time work after being laid off, Kline 
insisted on her own terms: chiefly, a four-day workweek. Priceless to her 
was the freedom to pad around dreamily in her slippers on Friday 
mornings. Downshifters like Kline cling to the promise of three things: 
more time, less stress and more balance. It's a fairly uncapitalistic brew, 
and to my knowledge only one advertiser has ever tried to sell it. In a 
network TV ad for the Mormon Church some years ago, a little boy 
walks tentatively into a board-meeting-in-progress, a tableful of men in 
suits. He shuffles over to the fellow at the end of the table, peers up and 
says, "Dad, is time really worth money?" The room falls silent. The boy 
has his father's attention. "Why yes, Jimmy, it is." Whereupon the kid 
plunks his piggy bank down on the table. "Well, I'd like to play ball after 

Culture jammers are different from all of the downshifters thus far 
described. They aren't just trying to get themselves off the consumer 
treadmill and make more time for their kids. They dissent because they 
have a strong gut feeling that our culture has gone scandalously wrong 
and they just can't participate in it anymore. The old American dream 
of endless acquisition sickens them; it enervates them. For jammers 
downshifting is not simply a way of adjusting our routines; it's adopting 
a lifestyle of defiance against a culture run amok, a revolutionary step 
toward a fundamental transformation of the American way of life. 

172 Culture Jam 

In Small Is Beautiful, a key book in the downshifting canon, E. F. 
Schumacher sets up an exquisitely sensible template for living. The 
point of life, he says, is "to obtain the maximum of well-being with the 
minimum of consumption." This idea is so profoundly simple that it 
may well become the credo — the cool — of the twenty-first century. It 
applies in all areas of culture, from food to cars to fashion. "It would be 
the height of folly ... to go in for complicated tailoring when a much 
more beautiful effect can be achieved by the skillful draping of uncut 
material," Schumacher writes. By this reasoning, it's cooler to ride a bike 
than cruise around in an air-conditioned BMW. Or to wear a plain 
white T-shirt than, say, a $125 Ashcroft Freddy Couples golf shirt. It's 
true, of course. And the truly cool have always known it. 

Uncooling Fast Food 

Buying and eating food has, like any act of consumption, political and 
even moral implications. "Every decision we make about food is a vote 
for the kind of world we want to live in," wrote Frances M. Lappe in her 
classic little book, Diet for a Small Planet. Every purchase of a can of 
Coke or a trucked-in Chilean nectarine initiates a multinational chain 
of responses that we simply can't afford to ignore. 

Even when we exercise some discretion — watch what we eat when 
we can, pay attention to whether we're buying Maxwell House coffee (a 
Philip Morris brand) or Nescafe or whole coffee beans from Sumatra — 
we can still be duped at the supermarket level. That's because we have 
allowed our eating habits to be shaped by transnational agribusiness. In 
the heavily concentrated food industry, the likes of Archer Daniels Mid- 
land ("supermarket to the world"), Cargill (the world's largest agribusi- 
ness) and Philip Morris (one of the world's largest food corporations) 
are framing our choices. 

Food corporations are formidable opponents because so much of 
what they do is invisible. One of the things they do is cut us off from the 
source of our food — a concept known as "distancing." 

Distancing is a nasty bit of business, but it shouldn't surprise us. As 

174 Culture Jam 

Brewster Kneen, author of Invisible Giant, puts it, we are "distanced" 
from our mother's breast the moment a baby bottle is inserted into our 
mouth. "From that moment on, corporate America gets involved, 
hawking processed 'junior' foods and baby foods that contain lots of 
salt, sugar and chemicals. Thus we become eager consumers of Ken- 
tucky Fried Chicken, Doritos, Pizza Hut and Pepsi (all the same com- 
pany) later in life." Eventually, we find ourselves participating in the 
ultimate act of distancing: eating a genetically altered tomato whose 
mother plant does not even exist. 

The average pound of food in America travels 1,300 miles before it 
reaches a kitchen table. That's inefficient and unsustainable. Demarket- 
ing food involves closing the gap between the source and the plate. It 
means turning away from fast foods and superstores and embracing 
farmers' markets and the family kitchen; away from hothouse tomatoes 
and toward your own local supplier, and eventually, perhaps, your own 
garden plot. These decisions will change your life, if you have the 
appetite for the journey. 

The commitment involves cutting, bit by bit, the food megacorpo- 
rations out of your life. This is not so different from weaning yourself 
off a destructive yet magnetic relationship with another human being. 
Every time you change your mind and don't slip into McDonald's for a 
quickie, every time you squirt some lemon into a glass of water instead 
of popping open a Coke, every time you decide to put that jar of 
Maxwell House coffee back on the shelf, you strike the gong of freedom. 

When a groundswell of people train themselves to do all of these 
things, to demarket on a daily, personal level, we are applying the bot- 
tom jaw of the Strategic Pincer. The top jaw of the pincer is a series of 
radio and TV campaigns that ridicule the fast/junk-food industry. 
Working from both ends — bottom up and top down — the pincer will 
transform the way America, and the world, eats. 

Junk food is one of the most frequently advertised products on TV; 
that makes it a big target. Today, food jammers take on the junk-food 
corporations the way antismoking activists locked horns with the 
tobacco industry in the '70s. They try to "contaminate" junk food in the 

Demarketing Loops 175 
public mind. Every time an antijunk-food ad ("Fact: Over 50 percent of 
the calories in this Big Mac come from fat") airs, a replicating meme is 
planted. Every time an uncommercial appears on TV attacking those 
companies, their brands are a little bit uncooled. 

Suppose one day a car full of teenage kids drives by the Golden 
Arches and everyone wants to stop for a bite. But one kid, inspired by a 
TV subvert he saw the night before, makes a crack about the McDon- 
ald's employee standing over the 900-degree french-fry cooker, wearing 
the funny hat, making minimum wage and saying, "Somebody remind 
me again why I'm not selling drugs?" His friends chuckle. And maybe 
they all still stop at McDonald's for that meal. But now they're thinking 
about McDonald's in a new way. The oppositional meme has been 

In the nutrition wars, change is afoot. People are rethinking their 
food and where it comes from. The idea is catching on that each of us 
should "have" a personal farmer, the way we now have a doctor, lawyer 
or dentist, a single individual we can trust to supply us with healthy, 
safe, flavorful produce. So are farmers' markets where regional produc- 
ers (and only regional producers) are invited to sell their wares. So are 
community "box schemes" where hampers of fresh fruit and vegeta- 
bles — whatever 's in season — are delivered direct from local farms to 
consumers' doors. Out with Wonder Bread from megamarkets, in with 
community-supported agriculture, say the new food seers. Down with 
policies that encourage industrial, irradiated, bioengineered food pro- 
duction to the detriment of everybody but agribusiness. Up with flavor! 
Up with nutrition! Up with local control! 

Uncooling Calvin 

When fashion and cosmetics advertisers market our very physiog- 
nomies as renewable, reinventable commodities, we are dehumanized. 
We are used up and discarded. In the semiotics of advertising, we are 
"cut." The young woman made to feel insecure about her sexuality stops 
behaving authentically. She either comes on like a virago or, conversely, 

176 Culture Jam 

starts staying home Friday nights to compose sad poetry from her black 
heart. Likewise, a young man made to feel insecure about his sexuality 
either withdraws or grows angry and aggressive and starts taking what 
he wants. 

As no other company in the last fifteen years, Calvin Klein has 
commodified sex, and in the process brutalized our notions of sexuality 
and self- worth. The man at the head is a pioneer. He's credited with cre- 
ating the ad strategy of moving fashion ads from magazines to outdoor 
billboards and bus cards, and of trumpeting the era of the commercial 

Most people remember his 1995 campaign in which young models 
were crudely filmed in cheesy wood-paneled basements as an adult 
voice called instructions from the wings. The ads reeked of chicken- 
hawk porn. Advertising Age's Bob Garfield called it "the most pro- 
foundly disturbing campaign in TV history." The spots so offended 
public sensibility that they prompted an investigation by the U.S. Justice 
Department to determine if the models were underage or child-porn 
laws were violated. 

When I saw those ads I felt an animal rage stirring inside me. This 
was an affront much worse than simple Skinner-box behaviorism. 
Calvin wasn't just trying to program young people's choice of jeans, he 
was down in the subbasement of consciousness, where the very rudi- 
ments of identity are formed. 

I could imagine Mr. Klein rubbing his hands with glee. Here he was 
exploiting one of our final taboos and milking the controversy he cre- 
ated for all it was worth. From a marketing perspective, he was in a win- 
win situation and the more controversy the better. 

Imagine, for a moment, that the logo cK were the man, Calvin 
Klein. Would we feel any differently about the way he goes about his 
business? Calvin Klein is very interested in your teenage daughter. You 
see him flirting with her. He propositions her. He unzips her pants. He 
touches her. He sleeps with her. Finally, he prostitutes her. He degrades 
her sexuality for his profit and then, when she has paid out — literally 
and figuratively — he dumps her. 


A collage of cooU sexy, 
eerily familiar fashion 
images, complete with 
hip music and quick 
jump cuts. 

Close-up on model. 
Voice; "Why do nine out of 
ten women feel dissatisfied 
with some aspect of their 
own bodies?" 

The model vomits into the toilet. 

Voice: "The beauty induslrv 
is the beast." 

178 Culture Jam 

If you discovered someone had done this to your daughter, you'd 
probably call up a couple of your big-armed friends and pay the 
sonofabitch a visit. Yet what's the difference, in the end, between the cK 
ads and imagery exploiting her and Calvin doing it himself? Psychically 
speaking, a hole is still a hole, whether it was made with an auger or a 
billion drops of water. 

The first stage of demarketing our bodies involves realizing the 
true source of our self-esteem problems. It's important to understand 
that we ourselves are not to blame. Body-image distortions, eating dis- 
orders, dieting and exercise addictions — these are intensely personal 
issues, fought with therapy and lonely sessions of clandestine vomiting 
after dinner. They're our responsibility, but they are not our fault. The 
issue is primarily a cultural and a corporate one, and that's the level on 
which it must be tackled. We must learn to direct our anger, not 
inwardly at ourselves, but outwardly at the beauty industry. 

Can the almighty fashion industry be uncooled? In some ways, its 
dependence on fads and trends makes it exceptionally vulnerable. Tar- 
geting one company — one man — is a good beginning. Cutting signifi- 
cantly into Calvin Klein's sales will effectively launch the crusade to take 
back our bodies. Uncooling Calvin will send a shock wave through the 
whole industry; it will rattle the cosmetics companies, which now 
account for the largest individual product group (with the highest 
markups) in most big department stores; and it will affect women's 
magazines, which have generated enormous profits by convincing 
women they are sexual machines. It will send a powerful message that 
the pageant is over, and that from now on beauty will no longer be 
defined by the likes of Mr. Klein — or any other Mister. 

The jammer's best strategy is to plant antifashion memes on popu- 
lar TV shows such as CNN's Style with Elsa Klensch and its Canadian 
knockoff, Fashion File. I hear fear in network executives' voices every 
time I try to buy airtime for our "Obsession Fetish" campaign on the big 
three networks or CNN. These executives practically do contortions 
trying to explain why they won't sell us the airtime; they know that 
Calvin Klein and indeed the whole fashion industry would significantly 

Demarketing Loops 179 

cut back their TV advertising budgets as soon as our campaign started. 
The fashion industry is already held in disdain by many. The only thing 
that keeps its bubble aloft is this uncontested billion-dollar presence in 
women's magazines and on the airwaves. When we win the legal right to 
buy airtime and challenge the industry on TV, that bubble will burst. 
And then it will be Calvin's and the industry's turn to feel insecure. 

Uncooling the Car 

Jammers are now targeting automobiles as the next pariah industry. We 
want to sever the intimate connection between people and their cars, 
just as we cut the intimate connection between people and cigarettes. 
We want auto executives to feel just as squeezed and beleaguered as 
tobacco executives. We want them to have a hard time looking their kids 
in the eye and explaining exactly what they do for a living. 

Resistance to private cars is already building. In San Francisco 
thousands of bicyclists roll out of the Embarcadero district, snarling 
traffic; a few hold up a giant effigy of Willie Brown, the mayor who 
labeled cyclists "terrorists." In Portland, Oregon, the city council experi- 
ments with an Amsterdam-style system of free commuter bicycles, 
which can be borrowed and returned at various points downtown. In 
Canada, jammers air anticar ads, breaking the automobile industry's 
uncontested, uninterrupted fifty-year run on TV. 

Across the First World, pressure mounts for more bike lanes on 
urban streets. Several high-profile architects and planners weigh in with 
striking visions of the ecofriendly cities of the next era. Some big oil 
corporations, British Petroleum among them, finally accept some 
responsibility for global warming and pledge to sink money into 
research to develop cleaner petroleum products. Around the world a 
half dozen companies compete to produce commercially viable fuel 
cells that will power cars at highway speeds with fewer harmful by- 
products. Seth Dunn of the WorldWatch Institute likens what's happen- 
ing now to a full-circle return, one century later, to "engineless 

180 Culture Jam 

On a strategic level, however, much work remains to be done. 

More than any other product, the car stands as a symbol of the 
need for a true-cost marketplace, wherein the price you pay for a car 
reflects all the costs of production and operation. That doesn't just 
mean paying the manufacturing cost plus markup, plus oil, gas and 
insurance. It means paying for the pollution, for building and maintain- 
ing the roads, for the medical costs of accidents and the noise and the 
aesthetic degradation caused by urban sprawl. It means paying for traf- 
fic policing and for military protection of oil fields and supply lines. 

The true cost of a car must also include the real but hard-to- 
estimate environmental cost to future generations of dealing with the 
oil- and ozone-depletion and climate-change problems the car is creat- 
ing today. If we added up the best available estimates, we'd come to a 
startling conclusion: The fossil fuel-based automobile industry is being 
subsidized by unborn generations to the tune of hundreds of billions of 
dollars every year. Why should they have to pay to clean up our mess? 

In the true-cost marketplace of the future, no one will prevent you 
from driving. You will simply have to pay the real cost of piloting your 
ton of metal, spewing a ton of carbon out of the tailpipe every year. 
Your private automobile will cost you, by some estimates, around 
$100,000. And a tankful of gas, $250. 

Moving gradually over a ten-year period toward true- cost driving 
(giving the global automakers clear signals for long-term planning) 
would force us to reinvent the way we get around. When the majority of 
people can no longer afford to drive, enormous public demand for 
monorails, bullet trains, subways and streetcars would emerge. 
Automakers would design ecofriendly alternatives: vehicles that recycle 
their own energy, human- and fuel-powered hybrids, lightweight solar 
vehicles. Citizens would demand more bike lanes, pedestrian paths and 
car-free downtowns. And a paradigm shift in urban planning would 

About five or so years into the transition period, personal automo- 
biles would become more trouble than they're worth. People would 
start enjoying their calmer lifestyles and the new psychogeography of 

Demarketing Loops 181 
their cities. The rich car owner still cruising through town belching car- 
bon would become the object of scorn and mockery. 

In many ways the true-cost marketplace is the ultimate, all- 
purpose demarketing device. Every purchase becomes a demarketing 
loop. Every transaction penalizes the "bad" products and rewards the 
"good." Jammers envision a global, true-cost marketplace in which the 
price of every product tells the ecological truth. The price of a pack of 
cigarettes would include the extra burden it places on the health care 
system; the price of an avocado would reflect the real cost of flying it 
over thousands of miles to your supermarket; the cost of nuclear energy 
(if indeed we can afford it) would include the estimated cost of storing 
the radioactive waste in the Earth's crust for up to tens of millions of 

True cost is a simple but potent way to redesign the global econ- 
omy's basic incentives in a relatively uncharged political atmosphere. 
Conservatives like the idea because it's a logical extension of their free- 
market philosophy. Progressives like it because it involves a radical 
restructuring of the status quo. Governments like it because it gives 
them a vital new function to fulfill: that of calculating the true costs of 
products, levying ecotaxes and managing our bioeconomic affairs for 
the long term. And environmentalists like it because it may be the only 
way to achieve sustainability in our lifetimes. 

Uncooling the Spectacle 

Demarketing and the true-cost economy are the metamemes that bring 
the culture jammers' revolution together. It all sounds pretty ambitious, 
but the first steps are straightforward. Using a methodical, systematic 
social marketing campaign, we start at the personal level and grow in 
scope. We begin by demarketing our bodies, our minds, our children. 
Then we join with like-minded jammers to demarket whole systems. 
We go after our chief social and cultural rituals, now warped beyond 
recognition by commercial forces, and try to restore their original 
authenticity. Mother's Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christ- 


What you've been looking for 

Demarketing Loops 183 

mas: All are ripe for demarketing. All can be reclaimed. 

Students insist on ad-free learning environments. Voters demand 
that election advertising be replaced with televised town hall-type 
meetings in which the candidates face the electorate directly. Athletes 
refuse to endorse unethical companies. Fans insist that stadiums be 
named after their heroes, not corporations. Reporters make sure that 
advertorials are not part of their job descriptions. Artists, writers and 
filmmakers work on product marketing as well as social marketing 
campaigns. Families get food from their gardens and "therapy" from 
each other, from friends, neighbors and community. 

We reverse the spin cycle. We demarket our news, our entertain- 
ments, our lifestyles and desires — and, eventually, maybe even our 


Typical rates for a 30-second timeslot: 

Super Bowl (national) $1,500,000 

CBS Evening News (national) $55,000 

MTV (national) $4,100 

CNN Headline News (national) $3,000 

Late evening news (local) $750 

Saturday morning cartoons (local) $450 

Late night movies (local) $100 

Call your local stations for exact rates. 


Freedom has always been Western civilization's most powerful 
metameme. The idea of a free citizenry was born with the ancient Greek 
notion of "democracy" and has continued to evolve ever since. The 
English Magna Carta gave it weight and permanence. When the meme 
spread to the New World, it inspired the end of slavery; later, it led to 
universal suffrage and the dream of equality among all people. 

The march of freedom has been humankind's gradual awakening. 
We have come to accept the simple truth that oppression does not have 
to stand. We live under no one's thumb. In every way we control our 
own destiny. 

At the heart of freedom lies the freedom to talk to one another — to 
communicate. That, too, is as old as the ancient Greeks, who recognized 
the right of citizens to express their opinions. When the world's first 
mass medium — the printing press — was introduced, it became clear 
that "freedom of opinion" was not enough to guarantee free speech 
(many "Gutenberg revolutionaries" were censored and repressed when 
they tried to express their opinions about kings and popes). So the 
higher notion of freedom of expression was born. 

186 Culture Jam 

Article XI of the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man 
and of the Citizen asserts that "the free communication of ideas and 
opinions is one of the most precious rights of man." Since then the 
principle of freedom of information has been enshrined in all the 
universal and regional declarations and conventions relating to 
human rights. 

Article 13 of the 1979 American Convention on Human Rights 
reads, in part: "The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect 
methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls 
over newsprint, radio broadcasting, . . . or any other means tending to 
impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions" 

On December 10, 1948, freedom of information was enshrined in 
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose article 19 is the 
most categorical expression thereof: "Everyone has the right . . . to free- 
dom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom . . . to seek, 
receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regard- 
less of frontiers" 

Half a century after the signing of the Universal Declaration of 
Human Rights, citizens have access to a mind-numbing amount of 
information. Hundreds of newspapers and magazines are at our finger- 
tips. The five-hundred-channel universe has turned out to be a conser- 
vative guess. CNN beams news live around the world twenty-four hours 
a day. Cyberspace expands exponentially from the Big Bang of the digi- 
tal revolution. It would be easy to conclude, in this climate, that the long 
struggle for freedom of opinion, expression and speech is finally over. 

But it's not. 

In the past twenty years, an unprecedented situation has devel- 
oped with grave implications for democracy and freedom of speech: 
the emergence of a global communications cartel. The flow of infor- 
mation worldwide is controlled by an ever-shrinking number of 
transnational media corporations led by a handful of giants — Tele- 
Communications Inc. (T.C.I. ), Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, 
General Electric, Viacom and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. 
The great power of these organizations lies in their vertical integra- 

Media Carta 187 
tion. They can produce a film and distribute it through their own par- 
tially or fully owned theater chain, promote it through their own TV 
networks, play the soundtrack on their own radio stations and sell the 
merchandising spinoffs at their own amusement parks. A property 
can enter this vertical chain at any point and be spun in either direc- 
tion. A film becomes a book, a hit single, then a TV show, a video 
game, a ride. Among them, the media giants have the means to pro- 
duce a never-ending flow of social spectacles, and to nurture them, 
feed them, massage them and keep them resonating in the public 
mind. With the exception of a few wild domains still left here and 
there (public-access TV, pirate radio, zines, some unexplored reaches 
of cyberspace), the media megacorps have pretty well colonized the 
whole global mindscape and "developed" it into a theme park — a jolly, 
terrifyingly homogenized Las Vegas of the mind. 

What does freedom of speech mean in this kind of mental environ- 

What can you as an individual do if you don't like an ad campaign, 
the violence on TV, the way your local TV station covers the news, or 
the way a corporation or the government is manipulating the public 
agenda? Well . . . you can send a letter to the editor of your local news- 
paper, call in to a radio talk show or take your complaint to an advertis- 
ing industry association like the American Association of Advertising 
Agencies (AAAA) or the Canadian Advertising Association (CAA). You 
can phone a TV station or vent your spleen to the media watchdogs, the 
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Canadian Radio- 
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). If you're really angry (and 
somewhat organized), you can attend FCC hearings and try to revoke a 
TV license. Or you can become a media producer, write your own script 
and try to break into the information chain with your own documen- 
tary. If you're rich, you can bankroll your own films and documentaries. 
If you're very rich, you can buy a TV station. If you're filthy rich, you 
can amass a media empire. Each stage of participation takes you higher 
on what I call the "ladder of truth." Only a very few people ever get 
beyond the bottom rungs. 

188 Culture Jam 

On the lower rungs, our democracy seems to work quite well. 
Newspapers print lots of letters to the editor, radio talk shows debate 
the hot issues of the day, media and advertising watchdogs deal with 
hundreds of complaints every year. But how do you climb the ladder of 
truth and get your voice heard in the higher echelons of public dis- 

David Grossman has thought a lot about this. A former U.S. Army 
officer and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated On Killing: The 
Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, he has made a 
personal crusade of spreading the word on the incontrovertible link 
between TV violence and real-world crime. More than two hundred 
studies have identified a clear cause-and-effect relationship, and every 
credible agency from the American Medical Association to the Surgeon 
General's Office to the United Nations has accepted the conclusion. Yet 
this news has somehow escaped most American parents. If they realized 
the impact of TV violence on their kids, they would hardly be so cava- 
lier about their kids' viewing habits (or for that matter their own), 
Grossman suspects. 

These people cannot be warned effectively, because the most pow- 
erful and far-reaching delivery system for the message won't broadcast 
it. Even though Grossman has been contacted many times by apparently 
enthusiastic television producers, no story on him or the TV-crime link 
has ever aired on network TV (with one exception, when CNBC gave 
him the hook after twenty seconds). "Every time the story gets to a 
higher level, it's killed," he says plainly. Grossman happens to live in 
Jonesboro, Arkansas, where a local student recently went on a school- 
yard shooting rampage. As an expert on the psychology of assassina- 
tion, Grossman was besieged by the media, did many international 
radio and newspaper interviews, and was contacted by more than a 
dozen network TV producers. But his TV spots never ran. "Without fail, 
remorse or hesitation, when the networks found out where I was com- 
ing from (that is, ready to implicate TV as a probable culprit in the 
tragedy), they'd have nothing to do with me," Grossman says. "The 
magnitude of the stonewalling is staggering." 

Media Carta 189 

What to do then? How do you get the message out when you 
have no access to the messenger? Grossman's long-term strategy 
involves three points of attack: education, legislation and litigation. 
Educate by every other means but TV "until there's a groundswell of 
outrage," until the conspicuous absence of TV coverage of an enor- 
mous national story becomes the obvious story in itself. Legislate 
change by lobbying for major amendments to broadcast regulations, 
or the wholesale replacement of the FCC. Institute class-action suits 
for damages against the industry, much like the ones that have been 
brought against the tobacco industry. "The broadcasters may be 
powerful enough to buy candidates and influence elections, but they 
can't buy every jury of twelve people in the U.S. When a jury sees the 
unassailable evidence, we've won." Grossman imagines a group of 
people who have already been victimized in a high-profile incident 
like the one in Jonesboro banding together and launching an action 
that simply cannot be ignored. "Parents of the shooter and the 
parents of the victims have to both agree that one of the criminals 
here is the TV networks. And then we hold the networks' feet to the 

Grossman is proof that a committed individual can climb the lad- 
der of truth, but his dilemma points to a disturbing lack of democracy 
at the heart of our mass media. Nor is TV violence the only subject too 
taboo for the networks to touch. Think of TV addiction, arguably 
North America's number one mental health problem. Or unsustainable 
overconsumption by the affluent people of the First World. When is the 
last time you saw a network show (or a citizen-produced advocacy ad) 
on these subjects? 

Here's the point: The ideas, expressions and concerns of individual 
citizens no longer matter very much. Culture isn't created from the bot- 
tom up by the people anymore — it's fed to us top-down by corpora- 
tions. Under current conditions, real debate is impossible. Real democracy 
is impossible. Real change is impossible. 

Media Carta is a media reform movement to take back the cultural 
power to which all citizens are entitled — to reclaim our airwaves and 

190 Culture Jam 

the rest of our mental environment so that we can start telling our own 
stories and learn how to talk to each other again. 

Occasionally, we get a glimpse of how this new paradigm might 
work. In December 1996, the worst snowstorm in a century hit the 
Pacific Northwest. In Victoria, British Columbia, home to Canada's 
mildest climate (think Seattle with half the rain), five feet of snow fell. A 
dead calm settled over the paralyzed city. Victoria was about as prepared 
for this as Troy was for the Greeks. The city had only a couple of snow- 
plows. For days, no cars moved. People were trapped in their houses. 
Virtually no stores were open because the employees couldn't get to 
work. The brave ventured out, pulling supplies on sleds. A city of 
300,000 was essentially plunged back to pre-Industrial Revolution days. 

I mention this because a fascinating media story grew out of that 
storm. What happened at a local radio station called CFAX emerged as 
an example of the potential use (and long-forgotten past use) of public 
airwaves as a democratic medium. 

A couple of CFAX employees who had been marooned in the 
building by the snow decided to open up a kind of jungle telegraph of 
emergency information. Any citizens who could trudge to the station 
were put on the air, to tell the city what they had seen out there: some- 
one needed help in saving a greenhouse on the Island Highway. An old 
couple was stranded and in trouble on Pandora Avenue. A family har- 
boring two dozen refugee motorists in Fernwood was running out of 

Soon everyone knew that CFAX (and, to a lesser extent, the Inter- 
net) was the source of breaking news, delivered by individual sets of 
eyes and ears. Every newscast contained information valuable to some- 
one. Every broadcast, in the widest possible sense, served the public 

It struck many Victorians that this was the way the world was 
supposed to work. The private voices that came over the Victoria air- 
waves may not have been broadcasting-school smooth, but they rang 
with the clarity of the real. They weren't flacking some story that com- 
mercial interests wanted to propagate. They had something to tell and 

Media Carta 191 

nothing to sell. The citizens responded. Isolated individuals suddenly 
felt part of the larger chain; in the Buddhist sense, everyone became 

The CFAX case is obviously a unique one — you couldn't repeat it, 
wouldn't want to repeat it, on a national scale. But it does contain the 
essence of what we're trying to reclaim here. Victorians never felt 
more part of a community than they did during that storm, when, for 
a brief time, the media fulfilled a social agenda and everyone's two 
cents were welcome and equal. I wonder how many of those people, 
when the snow had melted and their lives had returned to normal and 
the commercial pap was back on the air, looked at radio — or media in 
general — differently. I wonder if any of them thought, This is the way 
our mass media could be if they had taken a different evolutionary 
fork in the road. 

I told the CFAX tale to a friend of mine who plays devil's advocate 
to many of my ideas. "So what's your point?" he asked. 

"My point is, there needs to be a way to get people talking to each 
other on radio and TV without commercial mediation." 

"There is," he said. "It's called public radio. And public television." 
He looked into the middle distance. "I can see it now. Kalle's World: all 
public broadcasting all the time. Commercialism has been weaned from 
the airwaves. And all these public stations are funded by ever-so- 
conscientious private listeners and viewers with nothing better to do 
with their time or money than phone in pledges. Remind me to come 
over to your place sometime and we'll catch what's on the tube: First 
we'll watch the puppet show and then we'll watch the half-hour docu- 
mentary on mulch." 

"Congratulations," I replied. "You've managed to completely miss 
the point. Look, this isn't about enforcing a diet of PBS. It's about open- 
ing TV up and letting the commercial memes duke it out with the non- 
commercial memes until a new balance is reached. I don't want 
commercialism to be completely purged from broadcasting. But it can't 
be the one and only voice." 

What happens when the commercial voice monopolizes the infor- 

192 Culture Jam 

mation delivery systems for years and years? We get used to it. That 
voice becomes the norm. We cease questioning it. Indeed, we have a 
hard time even imagining other voices. 

When President Clinton made a diplomatic trip to China in June 
1998, high-level politicians held a debate to determine whether to allow 
him to address human-rights issues or to debate President Jiang Zemin 
live on national TV. Eventually, it was decided that Clinton could have 
TV access if he agreed, among other things, not to meet later with dissi- 
dents in Hong Kong. 

Most North Americans find this kind of thing fairly astonishing. 
That TV access by the world's most powerful leader would need the 
host government's approval seems ludicrous. That, however, is (as of 
this writing, at least) the Chinese way. Of course, if China were to scrap 
its state-controlled media, and citizen-owned media were to be installed 
in its place, the country would be instantly transformed. Chinese cul- 
ture would heave. 

American broadcasting isn't an Orwellian state-controlled system. 
It's a commercial, corporate-controlled system, but that control can be, 
in its own Huxleyan way, just as undemocratic and uncompromising as 
the Chinese system. If Americans suddenly decided to break up the 
media monopolies with powerful antitrust legislation; or to reserve a 
few minutes of every TV broadcast hour for public-generated advocacy 
messages; or to deploy some other participatory strategy that gives indi- 
viduals and groups a voice on the public airwaves, American culture 
would heave, too. 

On the surface, the battle for Media Carta — the struggle for who 
will control the production and distribution of information in the 
twenty-first century — looks like a very unfair fight. On one side 
stand the mighty media megacorporations, the government regula- 
tors, and a half-century tradition of managing the airwaves as a com- 
mercial enterprise. On the other side stands a motley collection of 
writers, artists, academics, politicized communications professors 
and high school media-literacy teachers, and a loose global network 
of NGOs and media and environmental activists. Nevertheless, the 

Media Carta 193 

underdog has some effective tactical tools at its disposal. On several 
fronts there are "leverage points," and if we commit to working them 
simultaneously, they will bring results. Here are some of those lever- 
age points: 

• TV Turnoff Week. A social ritual every April where citizens reclaim 
a little time and tranquillity by staying away from the set for one 
week. The short-term goal is to get enough abstainers on board to 
depress the Nielsen ratings for that week — a powerful gesture of 
consumer sovereignty. The broader goal is simply to improve the 
quality of people's lives. 

• The Two-Minute Media Revolution. As citizen-produced advocacy 
uncommercials challenge the status quo on TV, a cyberpetition 
gathers signatures. The petition demands that the broadcast indus- 
try's governing bodies (in the U.S., the FCC; in Canada, the 
CRTC), when granting broadcast licenses, give two minutes out of 
every broadcast hour back to the people (advocacy messages would 
be chosen on a first-come first-served basis from among those who 
wish to speak). If enough people sign the petition, this strategy will 
open a hairline crack in the media monopoly. 

• Antitrust Lawsuits. The U.S. attorney general's 1998 suit against 
Microsoft is a good example of how potent a tool antitrust legisla- 
tion can be. If enough fed-up citizens demanded a freer, more 
diverse cultural environment, the government could be pressured 
to go after Time Warner, News Corporation and Disney, and limit 
the number of TV stations, newspapers and radio stations each is 
allowed to own. 

• The Revocation of Television Licenses. Thirty years ago, local residents 
in Boston filed a petition to the FCC to protest the shoddy nightly 
news broadcasts of their local station. They wanted WHDH-TV to 
have its license revoked — and they succeeded. WHDH faded to black 
and a new station under new management was born. 

No one since has repeated the Bostonians' success. These days 
it's almost impossible to unplug trashy TV stations: Licenses only 

Culture Jam 

come up for renewal every eight years, the dates aren't advertised 
and for decades now, whenever a case does come before them, 
both the FCC and CRTC always come down in favor of the 

None of this has deterred Paul Klite, the executive director of 
the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Media Watch. 

Like many others, Klite believes a lot of network program- 
ming is unnecessarily, destructively violent, so he put Denver- 
area newscasts through a sophisticated content analysis he called 
the "mayhem test." What he found is no surprise: excessive cov- 
erage of murders, terrorism, war and disaster. One station's 
evening news was 47 percent "mayhem." With this data and citi- 
zens' petitions in hand, Klite's group lobbied the FCC to deny 
the renewals of the broadcast licenses of four local stations. Klite 
argued that Denver TV news is "harming the citizens of Col- 
orado," and that they deserve some protection from such pro- 

Klite struck out. In the FCC's view, TV news is protected by the 
First Amendment, and the networks are free to air whatever news 
they please. 

Despite this setback, Klite's work has pumped new blood into 
media activism and created an example that other media watch- 
dogs can follow. His work points to a whole new attitude of per- 
sonal propriety toward the public airwaves, and reminds us that 
they belong to us, not the networks. Most important, he reminds 
us that we need regulators at the FCC and the CRTC to stop cozy- 
ing up to broadcasters and start taking some courageous and inde- 
pendent stances in the public interest. 

Legal Action. In 1995, Adbusters Media Foundation launched a 
Canadian Charter legal action against the Canadian Broadcasting 
Corporation (CBC) for refusing to sell us airtime for our citizen- 
produced advocacy messages. The case wound its way through the 
courts until the Supreme Court of Canada threw it out in 1998. 
The highest court in the land refused to hear it as a constitutional, 


The Two-Minute Media Revolution 

Dear Chairpersons Kennard (FCC) and Bertrand (CRTC), 

We the people want access! It is our unwavering conviction that 
the public interest will best be served if the television licences 
you grant contain the two-minute media provision. We want 
broadcasters to set aside two minutes of airtime every hour of 
every day for citizen-produced messages in exchange for a 
renewed lease on the public airwaves. 

We, the undersigned, put it to you, regulators of our airwaves, to 
set up a system of direct public access to the most powerful 
social communications medium of our time, or to let us know why 
you are unable to do so in a free and democratic society. 

name address signature 

Please sign, photocopy and return this petition to the Media Foundation, 1243 W. 7th Ave. Vancouver, BC, V6H 1B7, Canada. 
Or fax it to: 604-737-6021 . Or find out more and sign the cyberpetition at <> 

Culture Jam 

freedom-of-speech issue. The Media Foundation will now take its 
case to the World Court in The Hague, under Article 19 of the Uni- 
versal Declaration of Human Rights. 

In the U.S., the Media Foundation has been trying since 1993 to 
launch a First Amendment legal action against NBC, CBS and ABC 
for routinely refusing to sell us airtime for any of the twenty-odd 
messages we have tried to air since 1991. We have files full of letters 
from the networks, plus transcripts of phone conversations with 
network executives, which prove that not just single thirty-second 
spots, but whole classes of information about transportation, nutri- 
tion, fashion and sustainable consumption are systematically being 
kept off the public airwaves simply because they threaten big-money 

A First Amendment victory in the U.S. Supreme Court would 
immediately transform television as we know it today. It would set 
up a new level playing field between citizens and corporations, and 
give people and groups a powerful new platform to speak out on 
the issues that concern them. TV would no longer just transmit 
commercial propaganda to a passive population but, instead, 
would become a key site of struggle over the production of mean- 
ing. Bit by bit the emptiness of our spectacular culture would be 
revealed and our currently enforced menu of packaged fun, 
beauty, heroes and myths would fade. A vibrant new media culture 
would be born. 

Given what's at stake here, you'd think there would be dozens of 
crusading lawyers eager to sink their teeth into this crucial, high- 
profile freedom-of-speech case. Unfortunately, that's not so. 

Recently, I placed a call to one of America's most powerful liti- 
gators, a specialist in First Amendment issues. I explained our posi- 
tion. When citizens cannot walk into their local TV station and buy 
airtime, then surely their First Amendment rights are being vio- 
lated. Aren't they? 

His reaction was immediate and almost visceral. He was a fierce 
defender of the First Amendment, true, but chiefly with respect to 

Media Carta 197 

how it applies to broadcasters. He seemed to hold their right to free 
choice above all others. 

"In America, I don't think you can compel a publisher or 
broadcaster to carry a particular message," he said. 

"But if a network decides that Nike or McDonald's can buy 
thirty seconds of airtime and say, 'Buy hamburgers' or 'Buy shoes,' 
why don't I have the right to buy airtime for my side of the story?" 

"You do have your rights, but you can't diminish their rights in 
order to enforce yours." 

I told him I thought my right to speak out on TV was fairly basic, 
given that these are public airwaves that legally belong to everyone. 

"I think that's a fiction," he said. "The air may belong to you, 
but not the studios and broadcasting facilities of ABC." 

I placed a call to another lawyer, this time a high-profile Los 
Angeles media attorney and former president of the Beverly Hills 
Bar Association, who turned out to be equally circumspect. 

"Networks have the right to quality control," he said. "They 
have a right to say, 'We won't carry a message that would be offen- 
sive to the other sponsors, because we don't want to lose those 

That's the way it all boils down: The broadcaster's right to run a 
commercial business stands in direct opposition to my right to 
freedom of speech. I was looking for an advocate who believed that 
my cause — the cause of the people — had at least equal merit. The 
Beverly Hills attorney gave me the number of another lawyer to try, 
and he cordially hung up. The hunt for the First Amendment grail 

Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those 
who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to 
govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A soci- 
ety, most of whose members spend a great deal of their time not 
on the spot, not here and now in the calculable future, but 
somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap 

198 Culture Jam 

opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard 
to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate 
and control it. 

Aldous Huxley was on the mark in the foreword of his revised 1946 
edition of Brave New World, which perhaps more than any other work 
of twentieth-century fiction predicted the psychological climate of our 
wired age. One can draw an easy parallel between "soma" — the pleasure 
drug issued to citizens of Brave New World — and the mass media as we 
know them today. Both keep the masses tranquilized and pacified, and 
maintain the social order. Both chase out reason in favor of entertain- 
ments and disjointed thought. Both encourage uniformity of behavior. 
Both devalue the past in favor of sensory pleasures now. 

Unlike the people in Orwell's 1984, who resent being controlled by 
Big Brother but feel powerless to resist, residents of Huxley's realm will- 
ingly participate in their manipulation. They happily take soma. They're 
in the loop, and, by God, they love it. The pursuit of happiness becomes 
its own end — there's endless consumption, free sex and perfect mood 
management. The people are enraptured. They believe they live in 
Utopia. Only you, the reader (and a couple of "imperfect" characters in 
the book who somehow ended up with real personalities) know it's 
Dystopia. It's a hell that can only be recognized by those outside the sys- 

Our own dystopia, too, can only be detected from the outside — by 
"outsiders" who for some strange reason did not watch too much TV 
when they were young; who read a few good books, met a few good 
people, spent some time living in other cultures, and by some lucky 
twist of fate were not seduced by The Dream and recruited into the con- 
sumer cult of the insatiables. 

Although most of us are still stuck in the cult, our taste for soma is 
souring. Through the haze of manufactured happiness, we are realizing 
that we must stop the show, that our only escape is to halt the flow of 
soma, to break the communication cartel's monopoly on the produc- 
tion of meaning. 

Media Carta 199 

Media Carta is the great human-rights battle of our information 
age — a great personal, intellectual, social, cultural and legal test. The 
infrastructure for this battle is already in place. Culture jammers 
around the world are preparing for the showdown. In the early years of 
the new millennium, we will spearhead a media reform movement to 
enshrine the right to communicate as a fundamental human right in 
the constitutions of all free nations and in the Universal Declaration of 
Human Rights. 

We will save the most precious of all our natural resources: the 
peace and clarity of our own minds. 


Fifteen hundred eminent scientists, including the majority of all living 
Nobel Prizewinners, signed a Warning to Humanity in 1992, and fifty- 
eight world academies of science released a similar document in 1994, 
warning that the human experiment on Planet Earth is veering out of 
control. Population growth, overconsumption, inappropriate techno- 
logical applications and relentless economic expansion are destroying 
the life-support systems on which our future depends. 

Meanwhile, strangely, our politicians, economists and business 
leaders are wearing banana grins. "We're growing," they beam. "We're 
putting up more factories, selling more goods, creating more wealth 
than ever before in the history of mankind." 

Never-ending material growth is the cornerstone of our current 
economic system. There's no such thing as a zero-growth model within 
its framework. In fact, nothing much but material growth really mat- 
ters, economists have decreed. 

And yet, constant growth within finite terrain is the ideology of the 
cancer cell. It's madness. It's a madness propagated twenty-four hours a 
day by the corporate-controlled mass media, which are structurally 

202 Culture Jam 

incapable of offering us the root-cause analyses of our current predica- 

So we're stuck trying to reconcile powerful mixed messages. For 
most of us the economy remains a mysterious abstract system. As with 
our microwave oven, we don't know how it works and we don't really 
want to know. We just keep pushing buttons and hot dinners keep com- 
ing out. We think of markets having their own laws that we break at our 
peril. And we think that economists are learned scientists who, with 
their arcane but irrefutable logic, are somehow managing the whole 

The truth is that we have handed our ecological and economic 
well-being over to an elite group of professional policymakers who 
have, at best, only a vague idea of what they are doing. Their "scientifi- 
cally" managed cycles of "growth" and consumption are wiping out the 
natural world, though if you put it to them that way, they would deny it. 
Their idea of "progress" is to sell off the planet's irreplaceable natural 
capital and call it income — though they would deny that too. 

Is there a way out of this social trap — this crisis of meaning? The 
economics profession won't admit its models are flawed. First World 
consumers remain blissfully unaware of the havoc wrought by their 
lifestyles. The commercial broadcast media won't sell airtime for 
citizen-produced wake-up calls. Governments refuse to acknowledge 
the astronomical ecological debt we have already accrued to future gen- 
erations. Most everyone is in denial. Deep down, we all "know" the 
planet is dying, but nobody wants to talk about it. 

Of course there are ways to get the conversation going — strategies 
for jamming the global economy back onto a sustainable path. 

First, we kill all the economists (figuratively speaking). We prove 
that despite the almost religious deference society extends to them, they 
aren't untouchable. We challenge their authority, question their creden- 
tials. We launch a global media campaign to discredit them. We show 
how their economic models are fundamentally flawed. We reveal their 
"science" as a dangerous pseudoscience. We ridicule them on TV. We 
enlist our own, equally decorated ecological economists to debate them 

Redefining Progress 203 
point for point. We pop up in unexpected places like on the local busi- 
ness news, on commercial breaks during the midnight movie and ran- 
domly on national prime time. 

At the same time, we lay a trap for the G-7 leaders. Our campaign 
paints them as Lear-like figures, deluded kings unaware of the damage 
their deepening madness is doing. We demand to know why the issue of 
overconsumption in the First World is not even on their agenda. In the 
weeks leading up to their yearly summit meeting, we buy radio and TV 
spots on stations around the world that dare our leaders to answer the 
Big Question: "Is Economic 'Progress' Killing the Planet? " 

We make those six words blaze in the public imagination. We get 
ordinary citizens to think about them, policymakers to debate them and 
students to confront their teachers with them. Little by little we maneu- 
ver the leaders into a position where suddenly, at a worldwide press 
conference, they are forced to respond to a question like this: "Mr. Pres- 
ident, how do you measure economic progress? How do you tell if the 
economy is healthy or sick?" 

The President will probably skate. He'll formulate some pat answer 
about how America has a pretty good report card, what with one of the 
best GDP growth rates and the record-setting bull run on Wall Street. 
He'll try to move on. But a few reporters will keep pressing him and the 
other leaders. They will demand a better answer — a real answer: Should 
we consider the Exxon Valdez spill a "success," since it boosted GDP? 
What other measures of economic progress besides the GDP are being 
used? How are losses of natural capital like the disappearing salmon 
fisheries of the Pacific Northwest being factored into the national 
accounts? Are the costs of climate change being considered? What about 
ozone depletion? Desertification? Biodiversity loss? 

A point will be reached, either right there at the G-7 press confer- 
ence or at some future press conference, when it dawns on the world 
that these seven men and their economic policymakers can't be trusted 
with the farm. They don't know the answer to the simplest and most 
fundamental of all questions about the economic system they manage: 
Are we moving forward or backward? 

204 Culture Jam 

This escalating war of nerves with the heads of state is the top jaw 
of our Strategic Pincer. The bottom jaw of the pincer is the work that 
goes on at a grassroots level, where neoclassical dogma is still being 
propagated every day. Within university economics departments world- 
wide, a wholesale mindshift is about to take place. The tenured profes- 
sors who run those departments, the keepers of the neoclassical flame, 
are as proud and stubborn as high-alpine goats, and they don't take well 
to being challenged. But challenge them we will, fiercely, and with the 
conviction that we are right and they are wrong. 

Thomas Kuhn, in his now famous 1962 book The Structure of Sci- 
entific Revolutions, describes how paradigm shifts in science are very 
much like political revolutions. They are messy affairs that don't unfold 
quickly or easily or without the painful overthrow of the people in 

Kuhn's most profound insight is that, in the real world, contrary to 
the way scientific progress is supposed to happen, an old paradigm can- 
not be replaced by new evidence, facts or "the truth." It can only be 
replaced by another paradigm. In other words, the profession of econom- 
ics will not change just because its forecasts are wrong, its policies no 
longer work or its theories are proved unscientific. It will change only 
when a new maverick generation of economists grabs the old-school 
practitioners by the scruffs of their necks and throws them out of power. 

How to Break the Neoclassical Trance 

Start a culture-jamming group on your campus. Try to get postgraduate 
economics students and at least one professor to join. Then wage meme 
warfare. Gather potent quotes by famous economic visionaries as 
rhetorical ammunition. 

Departments of economics are graduating a generation of idiot 
savants, brilliant at esoteric mathematics yet innocent of actual 
economic life. 

— Wassily Leontiev, Nobel Prize-winning economist 


206 Culture Jam 

The standard texts are powerful instruments of disorientation; 
for confusing the mind and preparing it for the acceptance of 
myths of growing complexity and unreality. 

— Guy Routh, The Origin of Economic Ideas 

Before economics can progress it must abandon its suicidal for- 

— Robert Heilbroner 

Ridicule neoclassical logic every chance you get. Interrupt lectures. 
Argue with your professors after class. Look them in the eye and ask the 
same questions you might ask one of the G-7 leaders if you got the 
chance: How do you measure economic progress? How do you tell if the 
economy is progressing or regressing? If they cannot adequately answer 
that question, then question the grounds on which their profession 
gives policy advice to governments. 

Plan a Real Economics Teach-in on your campus to coincide with 
the next G-7 economic summit. Invite an ecological-economics 
maverick like Herman Daly, Robert Costanza or Paul Hawken to speak. 
Find out what other universities around the world are doing. Get your 
hands on the sixty-second "G7-Ecocide" radio and TV spots from 
Adbusters Media Foundation. Raise funds. 

Air the "G7-Ecocide" message on campus radio in the weeks lead- 
ing up to the summit. Try to buy a few sixty-second TV spots on your 
local evening news on the day the G-7 leaders meet. Issue news releases 
announcing your campaign. If a TV station refuses to sell you airtime, 
publicize that fact. Fax local newspapers. Phone the TV newsrooms. On 
the day the leaders meet, get reporters and TV crews out to cover your 

A particularly effective economics teach-in was held at the Univer- 
sity of Victoria, British Columbia, in May 1996. Stark white posters, 
each with a quote challenging the legitimacy of neoclassical economies' 
underlying assumptions, lined the walls to greet students and professors 
alike one Monday morning. 


208 Culture Jam 

Some students were not amused. "It feels like someone's telling 
you, 'You're stupid, you're stupid' with every sign," one complained. But 
the Alternative Economics Committee was prepared to bruise a few 
egos. Deciding to deconstruct their professors' lesson plans for one day, 
this group of committed students confronted what they termed "fatal 
abstractions in economics" — the flaws of the neoclassical paradigm 
taught as gospel in nearly all North American schools. 

Teach-ins work. In the 1960s, student radicals created a forum to 
address a burning question that was being glossed over or entirely ignored 
during their classes: Just what was the U.S. doing in Vietnam? The teach- 
ins that followed involved the brightest minds and the bravest professors 
and served to both legitimize dissident thought and inspire action. 

At UVic, rather than focusing on a single political issue, the stu- 
dents took on the whole paradigm, examining the real-life conse- 
quences of neoclassical economics. 

The teach-in was a series of hourlong panels that ran all day. Orga- 
nizers figured they'd have trouble finding faculty willing to challenge 
the department, but they didn't. Disillusioned academics were burning 
to air their grievances. Almost all speakers had more to say than their 
fifteen minutes allowed. The rancor spilled over into a question period. 

The economics department sent a lone defender, a professor 
named Peter Kennedy, who gamely tried to keep up the side. At one 
point he refuted an opponent's statement by referring the audience to a 
certain page on a certain syllabus, as if to chastise the speaker for errant 
study habits. But Professor Kennedy was condescending and could not 
explain his position in plain language, which spoke volumes about the 
fundamental problems in the department. 

From speaker after speaker, memes flew. 

"There's no social security in a world that consumes the biosphere 
in which we live." 

"Nuclear energy is touted as a 'cheap fuel.' But is the waste disposal 
of spent nuclear fuel factored into the cost?" 

Later, Professor Kennedy stepped to the podium for a second time. 
He stood in front of the crowd, dressed in a casual shirt and jeans. The 

Redefining Progress 209 

anger and condescension were gone. "Economists are like weather fore- 
casters," he said. "They explain, but they do not influence, events." He 
admitted the need for interdisciplinary studies to cross-pollinate and 
bring studies like economics into the real world. His defense of the holy 
canon seemed labored. The students had him on the run. 

Little insurrections like the one at UVic are seen more and more 
frequently these days. In 1997, a group of students at Harvard Univer- 
sity rebelled against the neoclassical doctrine taught them by Martin 
Feldstein, a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan. The students 
held weekly meetings, invited guest speakers and handed out dissenting 
leaflets at Feldstein's lectures. 

So far the rumblings of student discontent have not turned to open 
defiance. The old-school practitioners like Feldstein live on, reinforced 
by the politics of tenure, of who gets published and promoted, whose 
research gets funded, and who gets plucked out of academia for a plum 
political appointment when the next administration comes to power. 
Within a global economy that more and more people are realizing is 
unsustainable and doomed to fail, they toe the party line. 

But not for too much longer. 

At critical times throughout history, university students have 
sparked massive protests, called their leaders on their lies and steered 
their nations in brave new directions. It happened on campuses around 
the world in the 1960s, and more recently in South Korea, China and 
Indonesia. Now we have reached another critical historical moment. 

It's hard to predict when the protests will begin en masse, or what 
will trigger them. It could be a crash on Wall Street tomorrow, or cli- 
mate change suddenly lurching out of control, or some freak happening 
such as a charismatic economics student from the University of 
Chicago confronting Alan Greenspan (or the president of the United 
States) at a news conference in a dramatic showdown — a clash of eco- 
nomic paradigms — that reverberates around the world. 

Then, in the months that follow, on campus after campus, the stu- 
dents will chase the old goats out of power and begin the work of repro- 
gramming the doomsday machine. 


In all revolutions, the agents of change — usually a small core of fired-up 
individuals — reach a personal point of reckoning where to do nothing 
becomes harder than to step forward. Then come the televised actions, 
the rebellions on campus, the random acts of defiance in high schools, 
supermarkets, malls, workplaces. A mass of support accrues. The little 
daily confrontations escalate. Momentum builds. 

And finally the revolution ignites. Very often the ignition spark is a 
symbolic act that takes the old power structure by surprise, a gesture 
that becomes a metaphor, living forever. Rosa Parks refuses to give up 
her seat on the bus. A Vietnam protester feeds a daisy into the barrel of 
a rifle. A dissident stares down a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. 
Nelson Mandela walks out of his prison cell in South Africa. The TV 
networks refuse to sell airtime for a citizen's ad. These memes penetrate 
skulls like bullets. 

The biggest impediment to revolution is a personal one: our own 
deep-seated feelings of cynicism and impotence. How can anything we 
do possibly make a difference? We have trouble accepting radical 
change as a viable option. Entrenched in a familiar system, we cannot 

212 Culture Jam 

imagine others. It's hard to see our current condition as simply one 
stage of a never-ending cycle that sooner or later will fall out of vogue 
and be succeeded — but this is exactly how the world works. Just as psy- 
choanalysis (which Freud compared to the Copernican and Darwinian 
revolutions, and which was once widely considered the key to under- 
standing human behavior) has pretty much given way to psychophar- 
macology, and Christianity has been squeezed out in the West by a 
fluid, New Age-y conception of spirituality, American-style consumer 
capitalism will also lose favor. One day soon people will get sick of fast 
food, fancy cars, fashion statements and shopping malls. They will stop 
buying heavily advertised products because advertising is coercive, 
tawdry and just increases the cost of the product. They will realize that 
"the most advanced urban transportation system is not the automobile 
but ...the bicycle, that the most promising power supplier of the future 
is not a bigger electric utility grid, but a new kind of . . . shingle on your 
roof, that the most efficient form of residential air conditioning is actu- 
ally . . . a good shade tree." They will tire of the egocentric life of 
ungoverned consumption and the media hype that fuels it. When a 
stretch limo glides by in 2003, the pedestrian reflex won't be to peer 
through the smoked panes for the celebrity inside, but to curse and 
mock this ridiculous symbol of decadence and environmental harm. 
The cool people of the next century will opt out of the spectacle and 
live spontaneous "lives of playful opportunity." And our children, and 
their children, will gaze back aghast upon our own time, a period of 
waste and abandon on a scale so vast it knocked the planet out of 
whack for a thousand years. 

We don't need a million activists to jump-start this revolution. We just 
need an influential minority that smells the blood, seizes the moment 
and pulls off a set of well-coordinated social marketing strategies. We 
need a certain level of collective disillusionment (a point I think we 
have now reached) and then we need the leaders of the affluent, "First" 
nations of the world to fumble a world crisis like a stock market collapse 
or mismanage an environmental crisis like global warming. By waiting 

Epilogue 213 

for the right moment and then jamming in unison, I think a global net- 
work of a few hundred activists can pull off the coup. Like J. K. Gal- 
braith's archetypal "revolutionary," we will kick in the rotten door and 
charge into the vacuum. We create a sudden, unexpected moment of 
truth — a global mindshift — from which the corporate/consumerist 
forces never fully recover. 

In May 1968, the Situationist-inspired Paris riots set off "a chain 
reaction of refusal" against consumer capitalism. First students, then 
workers, then professors, nurses, doctors, bus drivers and a piecemeal 
league of artists, anarchists and Enrages took to the streets, erected barri- 
cades, fought with police, occupied offices, factories, dockyards, railway 
depots, theaters and university campuses, sang songs, issued manifestos, 
sprayed slogans like "Live Without Dead Time" and "Down with the 
Spectacular-Commodity Culture" all over Paris, and challenged the 
established order of their time in the most visceral way. The breadth of 
the dissent was remarkable. "Art students demanded the realisation of art; 
music students called for 'wild and ephemeral music'; footballers kicked 
out managers with the slogan 'football to the football players'; gravedig- 
gers occupied cemeteries; doctors, nurses, and the interns at a psychiatric 
hospital organised in solidarity with the inmates." For a few weeks, mil- 
lions of people who had worked their whole lives in offices and factories 
broke from their daily routines and . . . lived. 

It was "the largest general strike that ever stopped the economy of 
an advanced industrial country, and the first wildcat general strike in 
history," and it spread rapidly, first around Paris and France and then 
around the world. At the height of the uprising in Paris's Latin Quarter, 
fifty thousand people marched in Bonn, and three thousand took to the 
streets in Rome. Three days later, students revolted at the University of 
Milan. The next day, students staged a sit-in at the University of Miami. 
Then skirmishes erupted in Madrid, Berkeley, New York City, Frankfurt 
and Santiago. The wave reached London, Vancouver, Dakar, Munich, 
Vienna and Buenos Aires, then Tokyo, Osaka, Zurich, Rio, Bangkok, 
Dusseldorf, Mexico City, Saigon, La Paz, Chicago, Venice, Montreal and 
Auckland. For a few heady weeks a tantalizing question hung in the air: 

2U Culture Jam 

What if the whole world turned into the Latin Quarter? Could this be 
the beginning of the first global revolution? 

As it turned out, this brief, hot happening the Situationists had 
helped catalyze stopped short of becoming a full-fledged global mind- 
shift. The protests petered out, governments restored control and the 
status quo crept back in. The Situationists failed to get the ball over the 
line, so to speak, because they were in several respects ahead of their 
time. The spectacular, mediated world they so compellingly described, 
and its menacing implications, were too new and strange for people in 
the '60s to grasp fully. And the Situationists themselves were, I think, 
caught wrong-footed. They and the students, workers, artists and intel- 
lectuals they inspired didn't have their memes figured out. At the height 
of the uprisings, when they had the ear of the world, they did not know 
what to say beyond a few cryptic pronouncements. "The Beginning of 
an Epoch," said the Situationists. "The death rattle of the historical irrel- 
evants," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to the 
president of the United States. 

The moral for culture jammers is, of course, Learn from this. Have 
a well-thought-out and tested action plan, build a united global front 
and be ready to scramble to the windward side when the boom swings 
overhead, as it inevitably will. 

We've had thirty years to think about what the Situationists were 
talking about, and it's finally starting to make sense. In that interval of 
time, modern media culture has metastasized. Consumer capitalism has 
triumphed. We're in the spectacle. The spectacle is in us. We are living in 
what Guy Debord, in the last years of his life, described as the "inte- 
grated spectacle," characterized by "incessant technological renewal; 
integration of state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable 
lies; an eternal present." 

Today, a confused and deeply troubled population is ready to act 
out. "Direct our cynicism, direct our rage," they seem to be saying. 
Thirty years ago, the Situationists had a half-baked idea about detourn- 
ing consumer capitalism, putting power in the hands of the people and 

Epilogue 215 

constructing a spontaneous new way of life. Now it's up to culture jam- 
mers to finish the job. 

Two generations of chronic overconsumption, decadence and 
denial have weakened America™. American cool is now every bit as vul- 
nerable as the Soviet Utopia was ten years ago. A revolution couldn't 
happen there, but it did. It can't happen here, but it will. This is a 
momentous occasion and we shouldn't doubt or fear, but celebrate. In 
the dawn of this new millennium, one dream is ending and another 
being born. 

And I can't think of anything much cooler than that. 


Introduction: Culture Jamming 

xi "Culture Jamming" For more information see the Culture Jammers 
Campaign Headquarters: <> and Adbusters magazine, 
1243 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V6H 1B7, Canada; subscriptions@ 1-800-663-1243 (in North America only). 

xi On the genesis of "culture jamming": I first came across the term in a 1991 
New York Times article by cultural critic Mark Dery. It was coined by the San 
Francisco audio collage band Negativland on their 1994 release entitled 
Jamcon '84, as a tribute to ham radio "jammers," who clog the airwaves with 
scatological Mickey Mouse impersonations and other pop culture "noise." 
Early culture jammers put graffiti on walls, liberated billboards, operated 
pirate radio stations, rearranged products on supermarket shelves, hacked 
their way into corporate and government computers and pulled off daring 
media pranks, hoaxes and provocations. A new generation of "jammers" is 
organizing "critical massing" rallies and "reclaim the streets" parties, launch- 
ing social marketing TV campaigns, coordinating global events like Buy 
Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week, jamming G-7 economic summits, initi- 
ating legal actions to revoke the charters of dysfunctional corporations, and 
pioneering an ever more potent array of cultural interventions. 

xiii "something to sell as well as to tell." This often repeated phrase was coined 
by George Gerbner, founder of the Cultural Environmental Movement 
and currently Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunication at Temple 
University, Philadelphia. 

xvi "Revolution is not showing life to people, but making them live." Guy 
Debord, quoted by Len Bracken, Guy Debord Revolutionary (Feral House, 
1997), page 1 10. 1 first saw this quote on the cover of Bracken's book. 

xvi "We will jam its image factory until it comes to a sudden, shuddering halt." 
For this phrase, I am indebted to Mark Dery, author of Culture Jamming: 
Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs (Westfield, N.J.: Open 
Magazine Pamphlet Series, 1993). 



xix Marshall McLuhan's "World War III" quote from Culture Is Our Business 
(Ballantine Books, 1970), page 66. 


4 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (Macmillan, 1969). 

4 "For two million years our personalities and cultures were shaped by 
nature." This idea was taken from the preface of Robert Kubey and Mihaly 
Csikszentmihalyi's Television and the Quality of Life (L. Erlbaum, 1990), in 
which the authors write: "By current estimates the first human beings 
emerged on Earth approximately 2 million years ago. In this vast stretch of 
time, approximately 100,000 human generations have lived and died, and 
yet ours are among the first to live in a world where much of daily experi- 
ence is shaped by widely shared, instantaneous mass communication." 

4 "about as voluptuous a place as you can find on earth ..." Anne Lamott, 
Bird by Bird (Anchor, 1995). 

6 "Psychology As If the Whole Earth Mattered " conference, held at Harvard 
University, fall 1990. From a report in the Center Review, Center for Psy- 
chology and Social Change, an affiliate of Harvard. 

6 On "our rampant, oblivious consumption ... is, simply, a sickness," see 
Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, edited by Theodore 
Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner (Sierra Club Books, 1995). 

9 "Is Everybody Crazy?" Jim Windolf, The New York Observer, October 20, 

10 "Worldwide rates of major depression in every age group have risen 
steadily since the 1940s." Elliot S. Gershon and Ronald O. Rieder, Scientific 
American, September 1992, page 91. 

10 "Rates of suicide, unipolar disorder, bipolar disorder and alcoholism have 
all climbed significantly." Roger Bland, chair of psychiatry at the Univer- 
sity of Alberta, in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, May 1997, as 
reported by Robin Lawrence in The Georgia Straight, June 11, 1998. 

10 "The U.S. has a higher rate of depression than almost every other country, 
and cross-cultural data show that as Asian countries Americanize, their 
rates of depression increase accordingly." Michael Yapko, Psychology Today, 
May/June 1997. 


10 Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift (Avon, 1975). 


12 "We know there's a correlation between TV viewing and voter apathy ..." 
Michael Morgan and James Shanahan, "Television Viewing and Voting 
1975-1989," Electoral Studies (1992), 1 l(l):3-20. 

12 "We know that TV viewing is linked to childhood obesity ..." Ross E. 
Andersen, "TV Viewing Linked to Childhood Obesity," Journal of the 
American Medical Association (1998), 279:938-942. 

15 Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (Quill, 

15 "Regular TV programming averaged ten technical events per minute and 
commercials twenty. Twenty years later these figures have doubled. MTV 
delivers sixty events per minute ..." John de Graaf, The Balaton Bulletin, 
Fall 1997, page 24. 

17 "The average North American witnesses five acts of violence . . . per hour 
of prime-time network TV ... " This statistic was provided by George 
Gerbner, Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunication, Temple Univer- 
sity, Philadelphia. 

17 "Two recent studies turned up conflicting results, and the head of one 
research team ..." Michael Sunnan, research director of the Center for 
Communications Policy at UCLA, quoted in The Globe and Mail Canada, 
April 28, 1998. 

19 "Every day, an estimated 12 billion display ads, 3 million radio commer- 
cials, and more than 200,000 TV commercials are dumped into North 
America's collective unconscious." From a rough calculation by Rick 
Crawford, postgraduate researcher, Department of Computer Science, 
University of California, Davis. 

1 9 "Three thousand marketing messages per day." Mark Landler, Walecia Kon- 
rad, Zachary Schiller and Lois Therrien, "What Happened to Advertising?" 
Business Week, September 23, 1991, page 66. Leslie Savan in The Sponsored 
Life (Temple University Press, 1994), page 1, estimated that "16,000 ads 
flicker across an individual's consciousness daily." I did an informal survey 
in March 1995 and found the number to be closer to 1,500 (this included 
all marketing messages, corporate images, logos, ads, brand names, on TV, 
radio, billboards, buildings, signs, clothing, appliances, in cyberspace, etc., 
over a typical twenty-four-hour period in my life). 

220 Notes 

19 "I think of those brainwashing experiments conducted by Dr. Ewen 
Cameron ..." Bruce Grierson, "Soul Shock," Adbusters, Winter 1998, page 18. 

21 "anti-language," a coinage of social critic George Steiner, was invoked in 
this context by Jonathon Dee in "But Is It Advertising?" Harper's, January 
1999, page 66. 

2 1 "Adbusters Media Foundation" is a Vancouver, B.C.-based nonprofit soci- 
ety that publishes Adbusters magazine, runs the Culture Jammers Cam- 
paign Headquarters on the World Wide Web and creates social marketing 
campaigns through its PowerShift advocacy advertising agency. Adbusters 
Media Foundation, 1243 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V6H 1B7, 
Canada; <>; 

24 "Most information has long since stopped being useful for us ... " Neil 
Postman, Technopoly (First Vintage Books, 1993). 

25 "A 1998 survey of eleven- to fifteen-year-old boys and girls ..." Kunda 
Dixit, Media Asia, Summer 1998, page 95. 

25 "In a dozen Asia-Pacific countries surveyed by the A. C. Nielsen com- 
pany ..." Normandy Madden, Advertising Age International, July 13, 1998. 

26 "Everytown, U.S.A.": Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 

33 "Soviet dissidents used to talk about a 'public sphere of discourse' ..." 
Taken from Jonathon Rowe, "The Tyranny of the Airwaves," Adbusters, 
Winter 1991, page 10. 

34 "Ninety percent of news editors surveyed in a 1992 Marquette University 
study ..." Lawrence C. Soley and Robert L. Craig, "Advertising Pressures 
on Newspapers: A Survey," Journal of Advertising, Volume XXI, Number 4, 
December 1992. 

34 "The PBS flagship NewsHour, which is underwritten by Archer Daniels 
Midland ..." "Stories TV Doesn't Tell," The Nation, June 8, 1998, page 7. 

34 "Double-click on 'Rocky Mountain High' and you'll find yourself at the 
virtual headquarters of the record company selling a boxed set of Denver's 
greatest hits." Taken from Ronald K. L. Collins, Adbusters, Winter 1998, 
page 59. 

Notes 221 

35 "In 1997, Chrysler, one of the five largest advertisers in the U.S., sent letters 
to one hundred newspaper and magazine editors ..." Gail Johnson, 
Adbusters, Spring 1998, page 19. Confirmed by Alan Miller, Communica- 
tions Department, at Chrysler's Auburn Hills, Michigan, office. 

37 The laugh-track scenario was inspired by an article titled "Oka the 
Promised Land," submitted to Adbusters by Kathleen Moore, May 1995. 

39 "Reebok paid Tristar pictures a million and a half bucks ..." "Sneaky Busi- 
ness," Entertainment Weekly, January 24, 1997. 

40 Richard Condon, The Manchurian Candidate (F. A. Thorpe, 1959). 

44 Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (Simon 
& Schuster, 1995). 

44 Ann Beattie, "The Occidental Tourist," Esquire, September 1988, page 198. 

45 Edmund Carpenter, Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! (Holt, 
Rinehart and Winston, 1973), page 3. 

46 Fay Weldon, Wicked Women (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997). 

46 "the first concentrated study of the social and psychological effects of the 
Internet, a two-year effort by Carnegie Mellon University ..." The New 
York Times, August 30, 1998. 

46 John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany (Morrow, 1989). 


5 1 "The Cult You're In" chapter is based on Kono Matsu, "The Cult You're In," 
Adbusters, Summer 1998, pages 32-33. 

56 The first International TV Turnoff Week was launched by Adbusters 
Media Foundation in 1994. See Adbusters, Summer 1994, page 24. TV Free 
America launched U.S. TV Turnoff Week in 1995. 

62 The first International Buy Nothing Day was held on September 24, 1992, 
the brainchild of Vancouver, B.C., artist Ted Dave. It has since grown into 
a worldwide celebration of simple living. Now held on the last Friday of 
every November (in some countries on the last Saturday), it is called Kauf 
Nix Tag in Austria, Niet-Winkeldag in Belgium, Ala Osta Mitadn Paiva in 



Finland, La Journee sans Achats in France, KaufNix Tag in Germany, Niet- 
Winkeldag'm the Netherlands, Nullkoptagen in Norway, Dzien bezzakupow 
in Poland, Dan brez nakupov in Slovenia, No Shop Day in the U.K., Kopva- 
grardagen in Sweden and Nanimo Kawanai Hi in Japan. 

63 "a bureaucratic society of controlled consumption." Henri Lefebvre, Critique 
of Everyday Life (English translation, Verso, 1991), as quoted in Baudrillard for 
Beginners, Chris Horrocks and Zoran Jevtic (Icon Books Ltd., 1996), page 8. 

65 "The Unofficial History of America™" Much of the inspiration for this 
chapter came from a little booklet called Taking Care of Business — Citi- 
zenship and the Charter of Incorporation, by Richard L. Grossman and 
Frank T. Adams (1993, Charter, Ink., P.O. Box 806, Cambridge, MA 
02140). Also useful for an early history of corporations in the U.S. is 
David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (Berrett-Koehler 
Publishers, 1995). 

67 "Limits were placed on how big and powerful companies could become." 
Grossman and Adams, page 8. 

67 "The two hundred or so corporations that were operating ... by the year 
1800 were each kept on a fairly short leash." Grossman and Adams, page 7. 

67 "In 1832, President Andrew Jackson vetoed a motion. . . " Grossman and 
Adams, page 12. 

68 "President Abraham Lincoln . . . warned . . . , 'corporations have been 
enthroned . . . ' " David R. Loy, A Buddhist Critique of Transnational Corpo- 
rations (professor, Faculty of International Studies, Bunkyo University, 
Chigasaki, Japan, <>). 

68 "In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad ..." Grossman and 
Adams, page 20. 

68 "Justice William O. Douglas concluded of Santa Clara ..." Grossman and 
Adams, page 20. 

69 "The shift amounted to a kind of coup d'etat ..." Loy, A Buddhist Critique 
of Transnational Corporations. 

69 "fifty-one of the world's hundred largest economies were corporations, 
not countries." "Was Democracy Just a Moment?" The Atlantic Monthly, 
December 1997, page 71. 



70 "a student named Jennifer Beatty stages a protest against corporate spon- 
sorship ..." Kari Lydersen, Chicago Ink, April 1998. Also Adjusters, Sum- 
mer 1998, page 56. 

70 "a student named Mike Cameron wears a Pepsi T-shirt on . . . 'Coke 
Day' ..." Frank Swoboda, The Washington Post, March 26, 1998. Also 
Adbusters, Summer 1998, page 56. 

70 "moms and dads push shopping carts down the aisles of Toys 'R' Us." Gail 
Johnson, "Consumers 'R' Us," Adbusters, Summer 1998, page 20. 

70 "chemical giant Monsanto sics its legal team on anyone ..." "Monsanto's 
Legal Thuggery," Food & Water Journal, Summer 1998, page 10. 

70 "A Fox TV affiliate ..." Steve Wilson, "Fox in the Cow Barn," The Nation, 
June 8, 1998, page 20. See also Jim Boothroyd, Adbusters, Winter 99, 
page 20. 

70 "The MAI would effectively create a single global economy ..." Craig Cox, 
"A Magna Carta for Multinationals," Utne Reader, November 1997, page 16. 

75 "Nine out of ten North American women feel bad about some aspect of 
their bodies . . . " An Introduction to Food and Weight Problems, National 
Eating Disorder Information Centre, Toronto, 1985, page 5. 

75 "A 1992 survey of eleven- to fifteen-year-old Canadian girls revealed that 
50 percent thought they should be thinner." The Health of Canada's Youth, 
Health and Welfare Canada, 1992. 

75 "Now girls as young as five are watching what they eat." Donna Ciliska, 
Why Diets Fail (Second Story Press, 1994), page 80. 

75 "50 percent of them are on a diet." "The War Within," Calgary Herald, 
October 6, 1997, page B5. 

75 "violin deformity." Elizabeth Haiken, Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic 
Surgery (John Hopkins, 1998), pages 299-300. 

75 "batwing disorder." Ibid. 

75 "Some models have removed their bottom ribs to accentuate the thinness 
of their waists." Sunday New York Times, Home News, December 1995. 



78 "Every three hours a new McDonald's opens somewhere in the world." 
Richard Gibson, Wall Street Journal, January 22, 1996. 

78 "The company spends over $1 billion every year on advertising." Advertis- 
ing Age, September 28, 1998, page s4. 

79 "The United States is the fattest nation on Earth ..." Humphrey Taylor, 
president, Louis Harris and Associates, American Demographics, October 
1991, page 10. 

79 "Flight attendants sometimes use Diet Coke ..." Air Canada's in-flight 
crews quickly learn that while all soft drinks work as drain cleaners to 
some extent, Diet Coke works best, according to a friend who was a flight 
attendant with the airline until 1993. 

82 Jane Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation (Crown Publishers, 1997). 

85 "The Global Economic Pyramid Scheme." Parts of this chapter were 
first published as "Voodoo at the Summit," in Adbusters, Summer 1997, 
page 18. 

86 "Ecologically speaking, the world is already 'full' ..." William E. Rees, 
"Sustainability, Growth, and Employment: Towards an Ecologically Stable, 
Economically Secure, and Socially Satisfying Future," University of British 
Columbia, School of Community and Regional Planning, a paper pre- 
pared for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, June 
1994, page ii. 

87 "There are no . . . limits to the carrying capacity of the Earth ..." Lawrence 
Summers, quoted by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, Investing in 
Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach to Sustainability, A-M 
Jannson, M. Hammer, C. Folke and R. Costanza, editors (Island Press, 
1994), page 363. 

87 "If it is easy to substitute other factors for natural resources ..." Robert 
Solow, quoted by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, Investing 
in Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach to Sustainability, 
page 365. 

87 "We have in our hands — in our libraries really — the technology ..." Julian 
Simon, The State of Humanity: Steadily Improving, Cato Policy Report 
17:5, Washington, D.C., The Cato Institute, 1995. 



87 William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, Our Ecological Footprint: Reduc- 
ing Human Impact on the Earth (New Catalyst, 1995). 

87 "40 percent of terrestrial and 25 percent of marine photosynthesis have 
now been diverted to human use." Rees, "Sustainability, Growth, and 
Employment," page 1. 

88 Robert Ayres, "Limits to the Growth Paradigm," Journal of the Interna- 
tional Society for Ecological Economics (1996), 19:1 17-134. 

88 For a compelling discussion of the shortcomings of the GDP as a measure 
of progress, see "If the Economy Is Up, Why Is America Down?" by Clif- 
ford Cobb, Ted Halstead and Jonathon Rowe, The Atlantic Monthly, Octo- 
ber 1995. See also Kalle Lasn, "The Economics of the Last Hurrah," 
Adhusters, Volume 1, Number 3, page 65. 

89 "Conducting economic policy based soly on the GDP is like driving your 
car without a gas gauge." Ronald Coleman, professor of political sci- 
ence at St. Mary's University, on CBC radio program, As It Happens, 
November 24, 1997. 

89 "A more accurate measure of economic progress." Herman Daly and John 
Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good, Redirecting the Economy Towards Com- 
munity, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Beacon Press, 
1989), page 401. 

90 "The difference between science and economics ..." Ferdinand E. Banks, 
from a lecture he gave in Australia in 1989. His Energy Economics: A Mod- 
ern Introduction will be published by Uppsala Economic Studies in 1999. 

92 "creating $50 in play money for every $1 worth of real products ..." Joel 
Kurtzman, The Death of Money (Simon 8c Schuster, 1993), page 65. The 
quote actually reads: "... major actors in the global economy . . . play with 
$20 to $50 (no one knows for sure) in the financial economy for every $1 
in the real economy ..." 

93 "Trillions of dollars slosh around this system ..." Richard Longworth, 
Global Squeeze — The Coming Crisis for First World Nations (Contempo- 
rary Books, 1998). 

93 "97 percent of the world's monetary transactions ..." personal communica- 
tion from Michel Chossudovsky, University of Ottawa. See also Patrick Harri- 
son, "The Revolution Will Be Carbonated," Adhusters, Autumn 1998, page 65. 




99 "The Revolutionary Impulse" The primary inspiration for this chapter 
and the Situationist strain throughout this book came from: Greil Marcus, 
Lipstick Traces — A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 1989); Len Bracken, Guy Debord — Revolutionary (Feral 
House, 1997); Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of Spectacle (Verso, 
1990); Situationist International Anthology, edited and translated by Ken 
Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981); Raul Vaneigem, The Revolution of 
Everyday Life (Rebel Press/Left Bank Books, 1994); Guy Debord, The Soci- 
ety of Spectacle (Zone Books, 1994), Simon Sadler, The Situationist City 
(The MIT Press, 1998) and Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture (Rout- 
ledge, 1992). Start your journey with Marcus or Plant and then move on to 
some of the original Situationist texts in Knabb's anthology. See Ken 
Knabb's website: <> for a few Situationist texts. 

99 "one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot." Czeslaw Milosz, in his accep- 
tance speech for the 1980 Nobel Prize for literature. 

101 "putting switches on the street lamps ..." the Lettrist International, 
quoted by Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces — A Secret History of the Twentieth 
Century (Harvard University Press, 1989), page 41 1. 

101 " 'a moral, poetic, erotic, and almost spiritual refusal' to cooperate with 
the demands of commodity exchange." Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Ges- 
ture (Routledge, 1992), page 8. 

101 "the 'spectacle' of modern life." Guy Debord, The Society of Spectacle (Zone 
Books, 1994). Originally published in France as La societe du spectacle 
(Buchet-Chastel, 1967). 

102 On "derive," see Guy Debord, "Theory of the Derive," Knabb, page 50. See 
also Bracken, page 66; Marcus, pages 168, 170; and Plant, pages 58-59. 

102 For one of the most striking Situationist texts on the subject of cities and 
derive, see Ivan Chtcheglov, "Formulary for a New Urbanism," 1953, in Sit- 
uationist International Anthology, edited and translated by Ken Knabb 
(Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981). I first read "Formulary for a New Urban- 
ism" at: <>. 

102 "locomotion without a goal." Plant, page 58. 

103 On "playful creation" of "situations," see Guy Debord, "Report on the Con- 
struction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency's 
Conditions of Organization and Action," Knabb, pages 17-25. 



103 On "detournement" see Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman, "Methods of 
Detournement," Knabb, page 8; "Detournement as Negation and Prelude," 
Knabb, page 55; Plant, pages 86-89; and Marcus, pages 168, 170, 179, 372. 

103 "radically reinterpreting world events such as the 1965 riots in Los 
Angeles ..." See "The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity 
Economy," Internationale Situationniste #10, March 1966, Knabb, pages 

103 "a famous drawing of Lenin ..." See a picture of this drawing in Bracken, 
page 64. 

1 03 "the deadly diversion of the force of life in favor of an empty heaven . . . "; "God 
is dead ..." For a full translation of this sermon, see Bracken, pages 10-11. 

103 "devalue the currency of the spectacle." Marcus, page 179. 

104 "a gigantic turning around of the existing social world." Plant, page 89. 
104 "Even the tiniest of gestures ..." Plant, page 67. 

104 "a new poetry of real experience and a reinvention of life are bound to 
spring." Raul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (Rebel Press/Left 
Bank Books, 1994), quoted by Plant, page 67. 

104 "the citizens of the most advanced societies on earth, thrilled to watch 
whatever it is they're given to watch." Marcus, page 99. 

105 "provisional and lived." The Situationists, quoted by Marcus, page 175. 

105 "the "bizarre" quarter, the "sinister" quarter, the "tragic" quarter ..." Ivan 
Chtcheglov, in Knabb, page 1. 

105 "I wrote much less than most people who write, but drank much more 
than most people who drink." See Bracken, page viii. 

105 "our kind will be the first to blaze a trail into a new life." Karl Marx, 
adopted by Guy Debord, and quoted by Marcus, page 185. 

105 "believe in faster trains and more traffic ..." L.T.C. Rolt, High Horse Rid- 
erless (G. Allen & Unwin, 1947). 

106 "Generations of poets, prophets, and revolutionaries, not to mention 
lovers, drug-takers ..." Plant, page 39. 



108 "The detournement of the right sign, in the right place at the right time ..." 
Marcus, page 179. 

108 "would leave nothing to chance." Gil Wolman, quoted by Marcus, page 358. 

112 "fin de millenium atmosphere of postmodernity." Plant, page 5. 

114 "Establishment and Resistance in one convenient package." Tom Frank, 
Commodify Your Dissent: Salvoes from the Baffler (Norton, 1977), page 35. 

1 14 Juliet B. Schor, The Overspent American — Upscaling, Downshifting, and the 
New Consumer (Basic Books, 1998). 

114 Hal Niedzviecki, "Are We Really Depressed? — Introducing Malaise Cul- 
ture," Broken Pencil, Issue 5, November 1997, page 14. 

118 "Allen Ginsberg, who found that ..." Rick Salutin, The Globe and Mail, 
May 16, 1997, page CI. 

119 "Project Censored." Sonoma State University, 

119 "Lewis Lapham . . . steadfastly refused to be drawn into the debate." The 
invitation to debate "the ethical and moral ramifications of running 
tobacco ads" came in an open letter to Lewis H. Lapham in Adbusters, 
Summer 1994, page 79. Lapham's first "response" appeared in Adbusters, 
Winter 1995, page 91. Then, "The Ball's in Your Court Now Lewis," 
Adbusters, Summer 1995, page 62. Lapham's second "response" appeared 
in Adbusters, Fall 1995, page 5, and his comments to The Globe and Mail, 
in Adbusters, Winter 1995, page 5. Further thrusts and parries in Adbusters, 
Spring 1996. 

121 "a ruthless criticism of all that exists." Karl Marx, 1843, adopted by the Sit- 
uationists, and quoted by Marcus, page 175. 

121 "We will wreck this world." Internationale Situationniste #1, June 1958, 
quoted by Marcus, page 175. 

123 "The Meme Wars." The title of this chapter is taken from Kalle Lasn, "The 
Meme Wars," Adbusters, Autumn 1998, pages 6 and 7. 

123 The word "meme" was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins 
in The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976). Derived from a Greek 
root meaning "to imitate," the word describes how memes mimic the 

Notes 229 

behavior of genes, propagating not body to body but "by leaping from 
brain to brain." 

123 The term "meme warfare" was coined by Paul Spinrad in Adbusters, Win- 
ter 1995, page 40. 

123 "a guerrilla information war." Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business 
(Ballantine Books, 1970), page 66. 

130 Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, 
William W. Behrens III et al. (Universe Books, 1972). 

130 "The manager of a housing co-op was ..." I first read this story in an arti- 
cle titled "Places to Intervene in a System," by Donella Meadows, in Whole 
Earth, Winter 1997, page 82. 


Many of the activist strategies in this part were originally published in Adbusters, 
Blueprint for a Revolution issue, Autumn 1998, and subsequent issues. 

139 "Whadd'ya got?" Marlon Brando in The Wild One, 1954, directed by Las- 
zl6 Benedek. 

140 "slave component." Sadie Plant, zeroes + ones: digital women + the new 
technoculture (Fourth Estate, 1997), page 4. 

143 "Lying is the major form of human stress ..." Brad Blanton, Radical Hon- 
esty (Dell, 1996), page xxv (preface). 

145 "Sovereign people do not beg of, or negotiate with subordinate entities . . ." 
"When a subordinate entity violates ..." Richard Grossman, "The Rela- 
tionship of Humans to Corporations," an article he submitted to Adbusters 
in February 1997. 

149 "Marshall McLuhan's World War III . . . " See Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is 
Our Business (Ballantine Books, 1970), page 66. 

150 "Reframe Debates." This section was inspired by a story that Paul Cienfue- 
gos, founding director, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, told 
me circa May 1997. 

230 Notes 

154 "How much harm does a company have to do before we question its right 
to exist?" Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce — A Declaration ofSus- 
tainability (HarperBusiness, 1993). 

157 "A corporation has no heart, no soul, no morals." This idea is taken from 
Professor David R. Loy, A Buddhist Critique of Transnational Corporations 
(Professor in the Faculty of International Studies, Bunkyo University, Chi- 
gasaki, Japan; <>). 

160 "revoke the charter of the Standard Oil Trust of New York." Richard L. 
Grossman and Frank T. Adams, Taking Care of Business — Citizenship and 
the Charter of Incorporation (1993, Charter, Ink., P.O. Box 806, Cambridge, 
MA 02140), page 17. 

160 "The state of Pennsylvania revoked the charters of a number of banks ..." 

160 "Michigan, Ohio and New York revoked the charters of ... " Ibid. 

160 "In 1890, the highest court in New York State revoked ..." Grossman, 
"The Relationship of Humans to Corporations." 

160 "In 1976, U.S. Supreme Court Justices White, Brennan and Marshall noted 
that ..." Ibid. 

160 "In May 1998, New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco ..." The Wall 
Street Journal, May 4, 1998, page A8. See also Randy Ghent, Adbusters, 
Autumn 1998, page 58. 

160 "In Alabama . . . Judge William Wynn ..." Randy Ghent, "Alabama Judge 
Threatens Big Tobacco," Adbusters, Winter 1999, page 54. 

161 "On September 10, 1998, in what may be ... " Randy Ghent, "Lawyers 
Guild Petition to Shut Down Unocal," Adbusters, Winter 1999, page 54. 

161 "And ... in the fiercely political university town of Areata, California ..." 
Randy Ghent, Adbusters, Winter 1999, page 51. 

161 "centrally planned by global megacorporations"? David C. Korten, The 
Post-Corporate World — Life After Capitalism (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 
Inc., 1999), page 1. 

169 Faith Popcorn, The Popcorn Report (HarperCollins, 1992). 



169 Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity — Toward a Way of Life That Is Out- 
wardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (revised edition, William Morrow, 1993). 

169 Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming 
Your Life and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking, 1992). 

169 "... The aggregate level of American life fulfillment ..." See also Yearning 
for Balance — Views of Americans on Consumption, Materialism, and the 
Environment, prepared for the Merck Family Fund by The Harwood 
Group, July 1995. 

171 Juliet B. Schor, The Overspent American — Upscaling, Downshifting, and the 
New Consumer (Basic Books, 1998). 

1 72 E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as If People Mat- 
tered (Blond and Briggs, 1973). 

172 Frances Moore Lappe\ Diet for a Small Planet (Ballantine Books, 1991). 

174 Brewster Kneen, Invisible Giant — Cargill and Its Transnational Strategies 
(Pluto Press, 1995). See also Brewster Kneen, "Taking On the Food 
Giants," Adbusters, Spring 1997, page 18. 

174 "The average pound of food ..." Lynette Lamb, "Are Fresh Fruits and Veg- 
etables Really Healthy?" Utne Reader, Number 23. 

175 "Over 50 percent of the calories in this Big Mac come from fat." From, McDonald's website. 

176 "the most profoundly disturbing campaign in TV history." Bob Garfield, 
"Publicity Monster Turns on Klein," Advertising Age, September 4, 1995, 
page 18. 

179 "Several high-profile architects ..." See Moshe Safdie with Wendy Kohn, 
The City After the Automobile — An Architect's Vision (Stoddart, 1997). 

180 "Your private automobile will cost you ..." For an accounting of the social 
and environmental costs of automobiles see Transportation Cost Analysis: 
Techniques, Estimates and Implications, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 
Todd Litman, director, 

185 "Media Carta." Parts of this chapter first appeared in Adbusters, Winter 
1999, pages 16-29. 



186 "The great power of these organizations lies in their vertical integration . . ." 
This idea came from Richard Masur, president of the Screen Actors Guild, 
The Nation, June 8, 1998, page 30. 

188 David Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in 
War and Society (Little, Brown, 1995). 

188 "Every time the story gets to a higher level, it's killed." David Grossman in 
a telephone interview with Bruce Grierson, September 7, 1998. 

188 "Without fail, remorse or hesitation ..." Grossman-Grierson interview. 

189 "The broadcasters may be powerful enough ..." Grossman-Grierson 

189 "Parents of the shooter ..." Grossman-Grierson interview. 

194 Paul Klite, executive director, Rocky Mountain Media Watch. See Jerry M. 
Landay, "Getting a Movement Going," The Nation, June 8, 1998, page 10. 
See also Jim Boothroyd, Adbusters, Winter 1999, pages 26, 27. 

196 " . . . one of America's most powerful litigators ..." Talk with Stephen 
Rohde in March 1998. 

197 "... a high-profile Los Angeles media attorney and former president 
of the Beverly Hills Bar Association ..." Talk with Barry Shanley in 
March 1998. 

197 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Coles Publishing Co., 1994). 

201 "Redefining Progress" is the name of the San Francisco think tank that 
pioneered the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Their Community Indi- 
cators Handbook helps communities start their own economic well-being 
indicators projects, <> (415) 781-1191. 

201 "the human experiment on Planet Earth is veering out of control ..." This 
idea was taken from World Scientists, Warning to Humanity, by the Union 
of Concerned Scientists (UCS), April 1993. 

202 "First we kill all the economists ..." This "How To Break the Neoclassical 
Trance" strategy first appeared as "How to Break the Voodoo Spell," 
Adbusters, Summer 1997, page 25. 



204 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of 
Chicago Press, 1962, 1970). 

204 "Kuhn's most profound insight . . . grabs the old-school practitioners by 
the scruffs of their necks and throws them out of power." Taken from Kalle 
Lasn, "Voodoo Economics," Adbusters, Volume 1, Number 3, page 57. 

206 "A particularly effective economics teach-in was held at the University of 
Victoria ..." "It feels like someone's telling you, 'You're stupid ..." 
"There's no social security in a world that consumes the biosphere ..." 
"Nuclear energy is touted as ... " This story was taken from Jim 
Munroe, "Students Give Teachers a Failing Grade," Adbusters, Winter 
1996, pages 32, 33. 

Epilogue: The Millennial Moment of Truth 

211 On "millennial moment of truth ..." see more in-depth discussion, Kalle 
Lasn, "Editor's Blast," Adbusters, Spring 1998, page 6. 

212 "the most advanced urban transportation system is not the automobile 
but ...the bicycle, . . . shingle on your roof, ...a good shade tree." These three 
ideas were taken from Ed Ayres, editor, WorldWatch magazine, September 
1998, page 3. 

213 "a chain reaction of refusal ..." Len Bracken, GuyDebord — Revolutionary 
(Feral House, 1997), pages 174-175. 

213 "Enragis." For a description of the role that this group of radicals played in 
the 1968 Paris riots, see Bracken, pages 157-175. 

2 1 3 "Live Without Dead Time" See On the Poverty of Student Life, by the mem- 
bers of the Situationist International and the students of Strasbourg Uni- 
versity, Situationist International Anthology, edited and translated by Ken 
Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981), page 337. 

213 "Art students demanded the realisation of art; music students called for 
'wild and ephemeral music'; footballers'. . . " Sadie Plant, The Most Radical 
Gesture (Routledge, 1992), page 98. 

213 "the largest general strike that ever stopped the economy of an advanced 
industrial country, and the first wildcat general strike in history . . ." Inter- 
nationale Situationniste #12, September 1969, Situationist International 

234 Notes 

Anthology, translated by Ken Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981), 
page 225. 

213 "At the height of the uprising in Paris 's Latin Quarter . . . three thousand 
took to the streets in Rome. Three days later ..." Bracken, pages 174-175. 

214 "The Beginning of an Epoch." The title of an article in Internationale Situ- 
ationniste#\2, September 1969, Knabb, pages 225-256. 

214 "The death rattle of the historical irrelevants ..." Zbigniew Brzezinski, 
quoted by Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces (Harvard University Press, 1989), 
page 32. 

214 "incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; gener- 
alized secrecy; unanswerable lies; an eternal present." Guy Debord, Com- 
ments on the Society of Spectacle (Verso, 1998), pages 11,12. 

Graphic Credits 

2 Tubehead Photo: Julie Lee 

5 She's Got Your Eyes Concept: Warren Neily; photo: Shannon Mendes 

8 Prozac Concept: Adbusters; photo: Karen Redfern; model: Gail Johnson 

28 Skulling Photo: Sandy Rolick 

36 Consumerism for Beginners Cartoon: Clay Butler 

42 Hamburger Eater Collage: Judy Wapp 

50 McNation Chris Woods, courtesy of the Diane Farris Gallery; 
photo: Bob Fugger 

56 TV Turnoff "Week Poster Design: Chris Dixon 

58 Consumption Void Photo: Jennifer Van Evra; model: Ken Paul 

62 Buy Nothing Poster Design: Chris Dixon 

64 American Soldier Illustration: Michael Maslin, courtesy of The Trends 

72 Corporate Tattoos Photo: Shannon Mendes 
77 Obsession for Women Concept: Nicholas Racz; photo: Rick Etkin 
98 Paris, May 1968 Photo: Bruno Barbey, Magnum Photos, New York 
110 Obsession for Men Photo: Nancy Bleck; model: Cayvan Econmi 
120 Joy Photo: Thomas Antel 

122 Life, Spirit, Joy Photo: Lydia Eccles and Wendy Hamer 

236 Graphic Credits 

126 Autosaurus TV Uncommercial: Director/animator: Bill Maylone 

138 Weasel Tail Jan Prither 

142 The Product Is You TV Uncommercial: Director: Geoff Rogers 
144 Organized Crime Collage: Lu Mannseichner 

151 Why Are You Buying Your Food from a Tobacco Company? Concept: Kono 

156 JoeChemo Concept: Scott Pious; illustration: Ron Turner 

170 Buy Nothing Day TV Uncommercial: Director/animator: Bill Maylone 

173 Grease Concept: Charles Dobson; photo: Daniel Illicic; model: Nadroj 

177 Obsession Fetish TV Uncommercial: Director: Katherine Dodds 

182 Nothing™ Billboard Fiona Jack 

200 System Error Photos: Mackenzie Stroh 

205 The Big Question Billboard Photo: AP Photo, Alexander Zemlianichenko 
207 G-7 Ecocide TV Uncommercial: Director: Geoff Rogers 


Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations. 

AAAA (American Association of 

Advertising Agencies), 187 
Abbey, Edward, 117 
ABC, 32, 35, 38, 196 
academics, 115-117 
A. C. Nielsen company, 25 
acts, beautiful vs. moral, 6-7 
Adbusters, 31, 117, 119 
Adbusters Media Foundational 
CBCsuedby, 194-196 
magazine and website of, 3 1 
television campaigns of, 31-33, 56, 58, 

62,95, 126, 142, 170, 177, 193,206,207 
website of, 132 
A.d.i.d.a.s (All Day I Dream About 

Suicide), 1 15 
advertisers, media power of, 33-35 
advertising, 18-21, 22-23, 24, 1 19, 166, 
167, 175 

subvertising and, 131-132, 133-134 

television rates for, 184 
Advertising Age, 22, 176 
"advertrocities," 22-23 
Alabama, 155, 160-161 
Albania, 90-92, 94 
alcoholism, 9, 10 
Allen, Woody, 22, 52 
Alternative Economics Committee, 208 
ambient noise, 13-14 
America™, 146,215 

cool and, 113-114 

corporate control of, xii-xiii 

global influence of, xiv 

uncooling of, xvi-xvii 

unofficial history of, 65-71 
American Association of Advertising 

Agencies (AAAA), 187 
American Convention on Human Rights, 

American Dream, end of, 59-63 
American Medical Association ( AMA), 

America's Funniest Home Videos, 37 
Amusing Ourselves to Death (Postman), 24 
"Anarchy in the U.K.," 100 
anger, xv, 12, 139 
"anti-language," 2 1 

antitrust legislation and lawsuits, 67, 193 

anxiety, 9 

Apple, 102 

Areata, Calif., 161 

Archer Daniels Midland, 34, 172 

Asian "tiger" economies, 94 

Asphalt Nation (Holtz), 82 

Australia, 20,21 

authenticity, "kidnapping" of, 101 
auto industry, 82-83 

"Autosaurus" television campaign, 31, 126 
Ayres, Robert, 88 

Babette's Feast, 79-80 
"bads," 89 
Baffler, 114 
bank charters, 67 
banks, disputes with, 148 
Banks, Ferdinand, 90 
Barings Bank, 93 
Barnes & Noble, 34 
"batwing disorder," 75 
Baudrillard, Jean, 40 
Beatles, 101 
Beattie, Ann, 44-45 
Beatty, Jennifer, 70 
"beautiful acts," 6-7 
Before Sunrise, 102 
Bellow, Saul, 10-11 
Benetton, 22-23, 26 
Bentley, David, 20 



Berisha, Sali, 92 
Bertelsmann, 186 
Bestfoods, 20 

Beverly Hills Bar Association, 197 
bicycles, bike lanes, 179, 180 
Big Enemies, 105 
Bill of Rights, 68 
bioeconomics, 86-90, 202-203 
Bird by Bird (Lamott), 4-5 
Black, Conrad, 25 
Black Friday, 94 
Black Monday, 93, 94 
"black shakes," 24 
Blanton, Brad, 143 
body image, 12, 73-74, 75 
Boeing, 79 
Bonn, 213 

Borderline Personality Disorder, 9 

boredom, 105 

Boston, Mass., 193 

Boston Tea Party, 66 

bovine growth hormone, 70 

boycotts, 158, 163 

Bradbury, Ray, 169 

brain, 1 16 

brainwashing, 19 

Brando, Marlon, 139 

Brave New World (Huxley), 197-198 

"breaking the old syntax," 107 

Brennan, William J., 160 

British Columbia, 30-3 1 

British East India Company, 66 

British Petroleum, 179 

Brown, Willie, 179 

Buddhism, 11, 106, 107, 108, 143, 157, 191 
Bulgaria, 90 
bulimia, 73 

Bunkyo University, 157 
"Buy Nothing Day," 32, 33, 62, 95, 1 32, 

Byrne, David, 52 

CAA (Canadian Advertising Association), 

California, 4-6, 161 

Calvin Klein, 23, 131, 175-179 

Cameron, Ewen, 19 

Cameron, Mike, 70 
Canada, 25, 75,92,119,178 
Canadian Advertising Association (CAA), 

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 

(CBC), 29, 31, 32, 194-196 
Canadian Radio-Television and 

Telecommunications Commission 

(CRTC), 30, 187,193, 194 
capitalism, consumer, see consumer 

Cargill, 172 

Carnegie Mellon University, 46 
Carpenter, Edmund, 45 
cars, 80-83,131,133 

uncoolingof, 179-181 
Carson, Rachel, 26 
"cashing out," 169 
Catholic Church, 103 
CBC (Canadian Broadcasting 

Corporation), 29, 31, 32, 194-196 
CBS, 32,33,35,196 
censorship, 1 19 

Center for Psychology and Social 

Change, 6 
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 19 
CFAX, 190-191 
channel-surfers, 15 
chat groups, on Internet, 43—44 
Chicago, University of, 209 
children, television's effects on, 3-4, 12 
China, 94, 115, 192,211 
Christianity, 212 
Christie, Linford, 20 
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, 9 
Chrysler, 35 

cigarette companies, 119, 131, 151, 
uncoolingof, 13, 125-127 
citizens' groups, 134-135 
civil disobedience, xv 
civil rights movement, xi, 155, 21 1 
Civil War, U.S., 67-68, 69 
Clinton, Bill, 192 
Clockwork Orange, A, 1 1-12 
CNBC, 188 

CNN, 32, 95, 133,178,186 



Cobain, Kurt, 52 
Cobb, John, 89 

Coca-Cola, 21, 25, 39, 70, 79, 174 
"Coke Day," 70 
Coleman, Ronald, 89 
college student apathy, 1 15 
"commodity sign value," 40 
communism, 140 
Condon, Richard, 40 
confronting corporations, 149-150 
Congress, U.S., 159 
Constitution, U.S., 68, 161 
consumer capitalism, xvi, 106, 140 

cartoon about, 36 

as cult, 51-57 

diminished expectations and, 51-52 

flavor fading from, 212 

programming of consumers in, 37—41 

uncoolingof, 169-172 

unethical nature of, xv 
cool, 38,63, 106,212,215 

corporate manufacture of, xiii 

cynicism and, xv-xvi 

definitions of, 1 13-1 14 

as global phenomenon, xiv 

see also uncooling 
corporate trusts, 69 
corporations, 73-83 

evolution of, 66-71 

grounding of, 157-163 

legal "personhood" of, 68-69, 124, 157, 

legal responsibility of, 158-160 
political and cultural power of, xii-xiii, 

xvii, 67-7 1,145 
revoking charters of, 160-163, 162 
seizing control from, 145-155 
social contract between consumers 
and, 76-78 

"corrections," in stock market, 93 

cortex of brain, 116 

Cosio d'Arroscia, 100 

Costanza, Robert, 206 

Council for Tobacco Research, 160 

crime rates, 60 

CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television 
Commission), 30, 187, 193, 194 

Cruise, Tom, 38 

Crystal Cruises, 34 

culthood, consumer capitalism and, 


corporate control of, xiii, xvii 
excellence and, 113 
global homogenization of, 25-26 
lateral vs. vertical spreading of, 102 
oppositional, xvii 

Culture Jammer's Campaign Head- 
quarters, 3 1 

culture jamming: 

assertiveness training workshop for, 

as direct action, 129-136 
as ethical imperative, xv 
living in the moment and, 106 
manifesto of, 128 
overviews of, xvi-xvii, 1 1 1-1 13 
practitioners of, xi-xii, 111-112 
in revolutionary continuum, 99 
social potential of, 135-136 
as stopping the flow of spectacle, 107 

"culture of simulation," 46 

Culture Trust, 1 14 

"cut," 175 

cyberfeminists, 117 
cyberjamming, 132-133 
cyberspace, see Internet 
cynicism, xv-xvi, 25, 141, 143,211 

Dadaists, 99,100,102 
Daly, Herman, 89, 206 
Debord, Guy: 

on revolution, xvi 

suicide of, 102, 105 

writings of, 102-103, 104, 106, 214 
Declaration of Independence, 66 
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of 

the Citizen, 186 
demarketing, 124, 149-150, 164, 165-183 

description of, 166-167 

detourningmd, 168 

uncooling and, 169-183 
democracy, 185, 188 
"democracy of false desire," 104 



Denver, Colo., 194 
Denver, John, 34 
"depatterning" experiments, 19 
depression, 9, 10 
derivatives, 93 
derive, 102-103 
detournement, 108, 146,214 

definition of, xvii, 103 

demarketing and, 168 

learning to, 147-148 

subvertising as, 131-132 
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of 
Mental Disorders (DSM IV), 6 
Diana, Princess, 39-40 
Diesel jeans, 23 

Diet for a Small Planet (Lappe) ,172 
direct action, 129-136 

finding leverage points for, 130-131 

pincer strategy for, 134-136 

subvertising as, 131-132 

television and, 133-134 
disinformation, 24 
Disney, 186, 193 
dissociative disorders, 44 
distancing, 172-174 
Dominguez, Joe, 169 
doomsday meme, 124 
Doordarshan, 25 
Dow Jones Industrial Average, 93-94 
downshifters, 53, 169-172 
Dunn, Seth, 179 
Dylan, Bob, 102 

Earth summits, 116 
Eastern Europe, 90-92 
eating disorders, 73 
ecocide, xiv 
ecofeminists, 117 

ecological economics, 86-90, 202-203 
Ecology of Commerce, The (Hawken), 154 
ecology of mind, 9-27 

advertising and, 18-21 

environmental movement of the mind 
and, 26-27 

erosion of empathy and, 22-23 

information overload and, 23-24 

infotoxins and, 24-25 

jolts and, 15-17,22 

media-induced shock and, 17-18 

mental environment and, 1 3 

noise and, 13-15, 16 

psychological ailments and, 9-10 

quantifying effects of mental pollution 
on, 16-17 

unreality and, 21-22 
economics, see global economy 
"eco-rage," 141 
eco taxes, 181 
education, 189 
Eisner, Michael, 140 
electricity meters, 130 
Elgin, Duane, 169 
"emoticons," 46 
empathy, erosion of, 22-23 
Enrages, 213 

environmental issues, xiv, 1 3, 26, 82, 203 
academics and, 115-1 16 
ecological economics and, 86-90 
Nobel Prizewinners' warning about, 201 
radical solutions needed for, 112 

environmental lobby, 153 

environmental movement, xi 
for mental pollution, 26-27 

E.R., 169 

Ernst and Young, 93 
Esquire, 44 
Estonia, 33 
EX, 38 

European Round Table of Industrialists 

(ERT), 70 
Evans, Ga., 70 
excellence, 113 
exotic dancers, 75-76 
expansionist economics, 86-88, 94, 

Extra, 118 
Exxon, 158 

Exxon Valdez, 88-89, 203 

Fashion File, 178 
fashion industry, xi 

Adbusters critique of, 3 1 

uncoolingof, 131, 175-179 



fast food, 78, 79, 131, 133, 150-152 

uncoolingof, 172-175 
faxes, 147 

Federal Communications Commission 
(FCC), 187, 189, 193, 194 

Federal Reserve, 94 

Feldstein, Martin, 209 

feminism, xi, 1 17-1 18 

fight-or- flight response, 15 

film commune, 29 

Finch, Peter, 141 

First Amendment, 194, 196-197 

"flaming," 44 

food, 78-80 

chemical additives in, 13, 78-79 
cigarette company ownership of, 

see also fast food 
"Forests Forever," 30-31 
Four Arguments for the Elimination of 

Television (Mander), 15 
Fox TV, 70 
"framing," 44-45 
France, xvi, 102,186,213 
Frank, Tom, 114 

free speech, 68, 185-186, 187, 194-196 



Gandhi, M. K., xv 

Gap (store), 102 

Garfield, Bob, 22, 176 

GDP (Gross Domestic Product), 88-90, 

91, 112,203 
General Electric, 158, 186 
Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), 90 
Germany, 89, 90 
Gibson, William, 24 
Ginsberg, Allen, 118 
Gitter, Richard, 32 
global economy, 71, 85-96 

as doomsday meme, 124 

expansionist vs. ecological views of, 

measuring growth in, 88-90, 91 

pyramid schemes and, 90-92, 94 

global warming, 1 16 
"God is dead," 103 
gold fraud, 92 
"goods," 89 

GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator), 90 

grassroots action, 134-135 

Great Britain, 89, 90 

Greenbrier High School, 70 

Greenpeace, 153 

Greenspan, Alan, 94, 209 

grief, stages of, 4 

Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 88-90, 

91, 112,203 
Grossman, David, 188-189 
Grossman, Richard, 145-146 
Gross World Product, 84 
G-7,85, 86,94,95,203,206 
"G-7 Ecocide," 206, 207 
"guerrilla information war," 123-124 
Guess? jeans, 23 
Gulf War, 89 

Hang Seng Index, 93 
Haraway, Donna, 117 
Harper's, 1 19 
Harvard University, 6, 209 
Hasselhoff, David, 140 
Hawke, Ethan, 102 
Hawken, Paul, 154, 206 
Hawkins, Libby, 32 
Headline News, 95, 133 
Heilbroner, Robert, 206 
Henry V(Shakespeare), 135 
High Horse Riderless (Rolt), 105-106 
Hits FM, 25 
Hoffman, Abbie, 117 
holidays, 55,181-182 
Hong Kong, 93, 192 
Hudson's Bay Company, 66 
Humboldt's Gift (Bellow), 10-1 1 
"hungry ghosts," 143 
Huxley, Aldous, xiii, xv, 143, 192, 

IBM, 113 
income gap, 114 
Independence Day, 38 



Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare 

(ISEW), 89-90, 91 
India, 25 
individualism, 65 
Indonesia, 92, 115 
industrial pincers, 134-136 
information overload, 23 
infotoxins, 24-25 
instincts, honoring of, xv 
"integrated spectacle," 214 
International Chamber of Commerce, 70 
Internationale Situationniste, 103, 121 
International Monetary Fund (IMF), 70, 


Internet, 7, 34,102,190 

chat groups on, 43-44 

cyberjamming on, 132-133 

social and psychological effects of, 

as unreality, 21-22 
Inuit, 7 

investment funds, 92-93 

Invisible Giant (Kneen), 174 

Irving, John, 46-47 

ISEW (Index of Sustainable Economic 

Welfare), 89-90, 91 
Italy, 100 

Jackson, Andrew, 67 

Japan, xiv, 94, 106, 118-119 

Jerry Maguire, 39 

Jesus, 119 

Jiang Zemin, 192 

John, Elton, 39 

jolts, 15-17,22 

definition and effects of, 15, 16-17 

on television, 15-16, 17 
Jonesboro,Ark.,188, 189 
Journal of the International Society for 

Ecological Economics, 88 
"joy-to-stuff ratio," 169 
junk food, see fast food 
Justice Department, U.S., 176 

Kael, Pauline, 40 
Kamakura, 106 
Kant, Immanuel, 6 

Kathmandu, 25 
Kay, Jane Holtz, 82 
Kennedy, Peter, 208-209 
Kerouac, Jack, 102 
Kidder Peabody, 93 
"kidnapping," of authenticity, 101 
King, Martin Luther, Jr., xv 
Kline, Alice, 171 
Klite, Paul, 194 
Kneen, Brewster, 174 
Korea, North, 23, 115 
Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth, 4 
Kuhn, Thomas, 204 

"ladder of truth," 187-188 

Lamott, Anne, 4-5 

Lapham, Lewis, 119 

Lappd, Frances M., 172 

laugh tracks, 37-38, 39 

Lefebvre, Henri, 63 

Lefties, 118-121 

legislation, 189 

leisure time, 105 


Leontiev, Wassily, 204 

Lettrist International, 99, 103 

leverage points, 130-131 

"libido of the ugly," 7 

Life on the Screen (Turkle), 44, 45 

Lincoln, Abraham, 68 

Linklater, Richard, 102 

Lipstick Traces (Marcus), 100 

litigation, 189, 193-197 

"livability index," 17 

Living Green, 171 

logging industry, 30-31, 153-154 

logic freaks, 116 

logos, corporate, 20-2 1 , 26, 38, 72, 1 3 1 , 

149, 167 
Los Angeles, Calif., 103 
Los Angeles Times, 34 
Lowary, Robert L., 33 
Lowery, Donald, 32 
Loy, David, 157 
Lungren, Dan, 161 
lying, 143 



McDonald's, 26, 78, 79, 132, 133, 135, 

McDonald's Student Center, 70 
McLuhan, Marshall, xix, 102, 123, 149 
macromemes, 124 
Magna Carta, 185 
"Malaise Generation," 114 
"male gaze," 76 

Manchurian Candidate, The, 40-41 
Mandela, Nelson, 2 1 1 
Mander, Jerry, 15 
manic-depressive disorder, 9 
Marcus, Greil, 100, 104, 108 

evolution of, 164 

see also demarketing 
Marquette University, 34 
Marshall, Thurgood, 160 
Maslow, Abraham, 106 
Massachusetts Bay Company, 66 
Maxwell House coffee, 172, 174 
"mayhem test," 194 
Meadows, Donella, 130, 131 
meaning, xi 

media, xi.xvii, 24, 185-199 

agenda of, 17 

censorship and, 119 

corporate advertisers' control of, 33-35 

effects of violence in, 12, 188 

"ladder of truth" and, 187-188 

newness of, 12 

ownership of, 25, 186-187 

refraining debate in, 150-153 

struggle against commercial control of, 

ubiquity of, 186 

see also television 
Media Carta, 124, 189-190, 192, 198-199 
Media Foundation, see Adbusters Media 

meditation, 106 
memes, 1 75, 1 9 1 , 204, 208, 2 1 1 

definition of, 123 

geopolitical warfare over, 123-127 

meta-, 124, 185 
Mencken, H. L., 7 

mental pollution, see ecology of mind 

metamemes, 124, 185 
Michigan, 160 
Microsoft, 193 
Milan, 213 
Milosz, Czeslaw, 99 
"mindbombs," 133 
"moments of truth," xiv-xv 
Monsanto, 70, 79, 132, 158 
mood disorders, 10, 12, 1 15 

caused by detachment from nature, 3-7 
Moore, Art, 32 
Moore, Marianne, 14-15 
Morain Valley Community College, 70 
"moral acts," 6 
Morgan, J. P., 67 
Mormon Church, 171 
Mother Jones, 118 

movies, product placement in, 38-39 
MTV, 15-17,25 

MUDs (Multiple-User Domains), 44, 45, 

Multinational Agreement on Investment 

(MAI), 70-71 
Multinational Monitor, 118 
multiple chemical sensitivity, 9 
Murdoch, Rupert, 25, 186 
"Mystical Forests," 30-3 1 

Nader's Raiders, 119 
Nation, 118 

National Film Board, 16 
National Institute of Mental Health, 10 
National Lawyers Guild, 161 
National Organization for Women, 161 
nature, detachment from, 3-7 
NBC, 32,35,132,196 
Nebraska, 94-95 
negamarketing, 164 

neoclassical trance, breaking of, 204-209 

Nepal Television, 25 

Nescafe, 172 

Net, see Internet 

Netheads, 46 

New Deal, 69 

News Corporation, 186, 193 
NewsHour, 34 
newspapers, 25 



New York, N.Y., 52,160,167 

New York (state), 160, 163 

New Yorker, 34 

New York Observer, 9 

New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), 93 

New York Times, 23, 34 

Niedzviecki, Hal, 114 


1984 (Orwell), 198 

Nobel Prizewinners, 201 

noise, 13-15, 16 

North Korea, 23, 115 

North River Sugar Refining Corporation, 

nostalgia, 59 
Notre Dame, 103 

NYSE (New York Stock Exchange), 93 

obesity, 12,79 

"Obsession Fetish," 31, 177 

obsessive/compulsive disorder, 9 

Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! 

(Carpenter), 45 
Ohio, 160 

On Killing (Grossman), 188 
Organization for Economic Co-operation 

and Development (OECD), 70 
Origin of Economic Ideas, The (Routh), 


Orwell, George, 192, 198 

Our Ecological Footprint (Rees and 

Wackemagel), 87 
Overspent American, TTie(Schor), 114, 171 

Palos Hills, 111., 70 
panic attacks, 9 
paradigm shifts, 204 
Paris, xvi, 95,213 
Parks, Rosa, 211 
Pavlov, Ivan, 1 5 
PBS, 34,191 
peak experiences, 106 
Pennsylvania, 67, 160 
Pepsi, 25, 70 
"Perpendiculaires," 102 
petitions, J 95 
on Internet, 132 

Philip Morris, 131, 132, 151, 158, 159, 162, 

163, 172 
pincer strategy, 134-136, 174 
PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), 


planned obsolescence, 82 
Plant, Sadie, 117 

plenitude, suffering caused by, 1 1 

politeness, 147 


corporate control of, xii 

viewed as outmoded, xvi 
Popcorn, Faith, 169 
Portland, Oreg., 179 
Postman, Neil, 24 

Prayer for Owen Meany, A (Irving), 46-47 

Presley, Elvis, 63 

price, see true cost 

printing press, 185 

"Product Is You, The," 142 

product placement, 38-39, 166 

Program on Corporations, Law and 

Democracy, 145-146 
progress, redefinition of, 201-209 
"Project Censored," 119 
protests and sit-ins, virtual, 132-133 
psychoanalysis, 212 
psycho-effluent, 21 
psychological ailments, 9-10 
"Psychology As If the Whole Earth 

Mattered," 6 
psychopharmacology, 212 
"psycho-rage," 141 

Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), 

pyramid schemes, 90-92, 94 

radio, 190-191 
rage, 139-143 

finding right target for, 139-140 
Rainforest Action Network, 161 
Ramsey, JonBenet, 76 
RayBan Wayfarers, 38 
Reagan, Ronald, 209 
"reality index," 22 
recycling, 112 
Redefining Progress, 90 


Reebok, 39 
Rees, William, 87 
Reese's Pieces, 38 
"restless legs," 9 
revolution, xvii, 123 

agents of change in, 2 1 1-2 1 5 

as paradigm shift, 204 

rage and, 139 

Situationists and.xvi, 104, 107-109 
"Revolution," 101 

Revolutionary War, U.S., 65, 66, 145 
Revolution of Everyday Life, The 

(Vaneigem), 104 
Risky Business, 38 
Ritalin, 10 
rituals, 55 
R. J. Reynolds, 158 
Robin, Vicki, 169 
"Rocky Mountain High," 34-35 
Rocky Mountain Media Watch, 194 
Rolt,L.T.C, 105-106 
Romania, 90 
Rome, 213 

Roosevelt, Franklin D., 69 
Roszak, Theodore, 6 
Rotten, Johnny, 100 
Routh, Guy, 206 
Russia, 90 

San Francisco, Calif., 179 

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific 

Railroad, 68-69, 161 
satori, 106 

Satoriin the Right Context, 106 
Scarcity or Abundance? A Debate on the 

Environment (Simon), 87 
Schiffer, Claudia, 23 
Schmalz, Bill, 30 
Schor, Juliet, 114, 171 
Schumacher, E. F., 172 
science, 204 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, 9 
Second Bank of the United States, 67 
self, loss of, 4, 45—47 
self-esteem, 12,76 

septic wedding reception, urban legend 
about, 61 

Serbia, 90 

sex, on television, 15, 17-18, 23 
sex addiction, 9 
Sex Pistols, 100 
sexuality, 74, 175-176 
Shakespeare, William, 135 

shareholder responsibility, 158-159 
shock ads, 22-23 

shopping cart "moment of truth," xiv-xv 
Sierra Club, 153 
Silent Spring (Carson), 26, 27 
Simon, Julian, 87 
Simon Fraser University, 1 17 
sit-ins and protests, virtual, 132-133 
Situationist International (SI), xvii, 45, 

history of, 100-101 

journal of, 103 

philosophy of, 101, 102-109 

revolution predicted by, xvi 

successor group to, 102 
Skippy peanut butter, 20-21 
slackers, 53-54,114-115 
"slippages," 45 

Small Is Beautiful (Schumacher), 172 
smoking, see cigarette companies 
social marketing, 164 
"society of spectacle," xvi, 108-109 
Society of Spectacle, The (Debord), 104 
Solow, Robert, 87 
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, 169 
"soma," xiii, xv, 198 
Sonoma State University, 1 19 
Sorkin, Aaron, 38 
sovereignty, 153-155 
Soviet Union, 33,118,215 
spectacle, xvi, 101, 104-105, 107, 
108-109, 140 

"integrated," 2 14 

uncooling of, 181-183 
Spelling, Aaron, 140 
spirituality, 212 
spontaneity, 106-108, 129 
Sports Night, 38 
Standard Oil Trust, 160 
stimulation addiction, 14 



stock market, 93-94, 158-159 

"corrections" in, 93 
Stringfield, Sherry, 169 
Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The 

Style with Elsa Klensch, 178 
"subvertisements," 131-132, 133-134 
suffering, plenitude as cause of, 1 1 
Summers, Lawrence, 87 
Supreme Court, Canada, 194 
Supreme Court, U.S., 160, 196 
Surgeon General's Office, 188 
Swingers, 81 

Telecommunications Inc. (T.C.I. ), 

telephone companies, 147 
telephone solicitation, 147-148 
Teletubbies, 16 

television, xi, xii, xiii, xv, 7, 14, 25, 29-35, 

Adbusters abstinence campaign for, 
31-32,56, 193 

addiction to, 189 

advertising on, 19 

advertising rates for, 184 

amount of violence on, 194 

body image and self-esteem and, 1 2 

corporate advertisers' control of, 33-35 

directing rage at, 140 

jamming on, 133-134 

jolts on, 15-16, 17 

laugh tracks on, 37-38, 39 

reality displaced by, 1 1-12 

real-world crime and, 188 

shock induced on, 17-18 

"uncommercials" blocked from, 

voter apathy and, 12 

withdrawal from, 3-4 
television licenses, 193-194 
Thailand, 25 

Thoreau, Henry David, xv 
Tiananmen Square, 211 
Tightwad Gazette, 171 
Time Warner, 186, 193 
tinnitus, 14 

Tobacco Institute, 160 
Tokyo, 118-1 19, 157 
tourists, "framing" by, 44-45 
Toys "R" Us, 70 

"transformative" Internet sites, 44 
Tristar Pictures, 39 
true cost, 124, 180-181 
Truman Show, The, 107-108 
trusts, corporate, 69 
Truth and Economics (Banks), 90 
Turkle, Sherry, 44, 45, 46 
"TVTurnoffWeek,"31-32, 56, 193 
Two-Minute Media Revolution, petition 
for, 195 

UCLA, 79 

uncommercials, 133-134 
uncooling, 172-183 

of America™, xvi-xvii 

of cars, 179-181 

of cigarette companies, 13, 125-127 

of consumption, 169-172 

of fashion industry, 131, 175-179 

of fast food, 172-175 

of spectacle, 181-183 
Union Carbide, 158 
United Nations, 188 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 

Unocal Corporation, 161 
unreality, 21-22 

vacations, 104 

Vacco, Dennis, 160 

Vaneigem, Raul, 104 

Viacom, 186 

Victoria, 190-191,206 

Victoria, University of, 206-209 

VideoCarte, 21 

video-editing technology, 16 

Vietnam War, 139,208 

violence, on television, 12, 15, 17,23 

"violin deformity," 75 

virtual protests and sit-ins, 132-133 

"voluntary simplicity," 1 69 

volunteer work, 89 

voter apathy, television and, 12 




Wall Street Journal, 32 
Warning to Humanity, 201 
Watts riot, 103 
"Web Central" (Weldon), 46 
Weldon, Fay, 46 

Western Canada Wilderness Committee, 

WHDH-TV, 193 
White, Byron R., 160 
white noise, 14 
Whitman, Walt, 45 
Windolf, Jim, 9 

women, body image and, 75-76 

women's rights, 155 

World Academy of Science, 87 

World Bank, 70, 85,87 

World Court, 131,196 

World Health Organization (WHO), 13 

World Trade Organization (WTO), 70, 85 

World War II, 65 

World War III, 123-124, 149 

WorldWatch Institute, 179 

Wynn, William, 160-161 

Your Money or Your Life (Robin and 
Dominguez), 169 

Z, 118 

Zen Buddhism, 106, 107 

About the Author 

I was born in Tallinn, Estonia, during the middle of World War II, and spent my 
childhood years in a German displaced persons tamp. When I was seven, my family 
immigrated to Australia, where I later earned a B.Sc. in pure and applied mathemat- 
ics from the University of Adelaide. My first job was with the Australian Defense 
Department playing computer-simulated war games in the Pacific Ocean. While 1 
was on a trip to Europe to find my roots, my boat stopped over in Yokohama; I fell 
in love with Japan and was unable to get back on the boat. 1 started a market 
research company in Tokyo, made a lot of money, traveled the world, and finally 
returned to Japan to marry Masako Tominaga. In 1970, we immigrated to Vancou- 
ver, Canada, where I started a film commune. Over the next few years, my experi- 
mental shorts and documentaries were broadcast on PBS, on CBC and around the 
world, winning over fifteen international awards. 

In 1989, my work in film led to an epiphany. I produced a thirty-second TV spot 
about the disappearing old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, then discovered 
to my dismay that no TV station would sell me any airtime. Since then I've been 
fighting the human rights battle of our information age: the battle for the right to 
communicate, to receive and impart ideas and information through any media, 
regardless of frontiers. The Media Foundation, Adbusters magazine, Powersoft Adver- 
tising Agency and the Culture Jammers Network — my projects for the past ten years — 
all stem from that moment's realization: that there is no democracy on the airwaves. 

The Culture Jammers Network 

We are a loose global network of artists, activists, writers, students, educators and 
entrepreneurs who want to launch the new social activist movement of the infor- 
mation age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift 
in the way we will live in the twenty-first century. We believe culture jamming 
will become to our era what civil rights was to the '60s, what feminism was to the 
'70s, what environmental activism was to the '80s. It will alter the way we live and 
think. It will change the way information flows, the way institutions wield power, 
the way TV stations are run, the way the food, fashion, automobile, sports, music 
and culture industries set their agendas. Above all, it will change the way we 
interact with the mass media and the way meaning is produced in our society. 


Visit the Culture Jammers Campaign Headquarters: 


Call (604)736-9401, fax (604)737-6021 or write: 
Adbusters Media Foundation 
1243 West 7th Avenue 
Vancouver, B.C. V6H 1B7, Canada 


Put your e-mail address on our listserv and receive news 
releases, campaign bulletins and strategic updates: 


Phone I -800-663- 1 243 

or e-mail: 


An eloquent call to arms to end the "branding" 
of America and return to authentic culture. 

America is no longer a country but a multimillion-dollar brand, says Kalle Lasn and his 
fellow "culture jammers." The founder of Adbusters magazine, Lasn aims to stop the 
branding of America by changing the way information flows; the way institutions wield 
power; the way television stations are run; and the way the food, fashion, automobile, 
sports, music, and culture industries set agendas. With a courageous and compelling 
voice, Lasn deconstructs the advertising culture and our fixation on icons and brand 
names. And he shows how to organize resistance against the power trust that manages 
the brands by "uncooiing" consumer items, by "dermarketing" fashions and celebrities, 
and by breaking the "media trance" of our TV-addicted age. 

A powerful manifesto by a leading media activist, Culture Jam lays the foundations 
for the most significant social movement of the early twenty-first century — a movement 
that can change the world and the way we think and live. 

"A brilliant and essential manual for our species." 

—David C. Korten, author of The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism 


"This is the culture jammer's call to reverse the suicidal 
consumer binges while there is still time." 

—George Gerbner, founder of the Cultural Environment Movement 

"Kalle Lasn is challenging the mental stranglehold of advertising culture." 

—Polly Ghazi, Resurgence magazine 

Kalle Lasn is an internationally known, award -winning documentarist He 
is publisher of Adbusters magazine and founder of the Adbusters Media 
jjgm Foundation and Powershift Advertising Agency. Lasn has dedicated him- 

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and TV Turnoff Week and to fighting legal battles for the right to access 
.the public airwaves. He lives in Vancouver, Ganada. 

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